so it may sound like an exaggeration, but i promise that’s what she said to me!
no, not our wedding day, not the day we met… not even the day she finished reading the last harry potter.
this day, a few weeks ago in wyoming, was the “greatest day of (her) life”.
let me explain…
we woke early to the sun rising over willow lake at the edge of the wind river mountains. she loves the outdoors, and more specifically, the mountains. she also loves waking up in a tent next to me :). what can i say?
so after yawning a bit, taking a sip of my coffee, she found a nice, soft patch of grass and started a short yoga routine. she loves yoga.
after breaking down camp, we headed over to our great friend’s home just outside of pinedale. Mike and Ellen (yes, i know, this may get confusing. i’ll just call my Ellen, Elle for the remainder of the wyoming posts) took the week off after hearing that we were coming in town… incredibly sweet of them. and it speaks to their faithfulness and kindness and friendship. i hope someday to be as considerate as they are.
they invited us over for breakfast… and now back to Elle’s “greatest day”. Ellen informed Elle that she could go pick out her own egg, straight from the coup. now, since Elle is a huge fan of eating whole, natural foods, this was very exciting for her. “a farm-fresh egg, seconds after it was laid (still warm!!!), and i get to pick it out myself!!!!!!???!!!” i could just feel the intense excitement bubbling over in her mind.
but alas, the chickens hadn’t yet laid an egg this morning… so we played with Ellen’s goats. another score for Elle.
patiently (sort of) waiting for a chicken to lay a precious egg….
the two Ellens trying to will the chickens into submission…
oooooo! i think it might have worked!!
oh, false alarm. let’s pet the goats some more…
alas!!! one lone egg for Elle!!
lots of excitement and exclamation points!!!!!!!
so to top it all off, Elle cooked it herself, just the way she likes it. and with breakfast, Ellen served homemade butter (another big plus for Elle) and goat’s milk, straight from the cute goat-friend she just made!
wow, this day couldn’t get much better… or could it?
during breakfast, Ellen mentioned that some friends of hers needed some help tomorrow “riding the drift”. now, folks from those parts in wyoming know what that phrase means, but many of us don’t. i was lucky enough to learn when i lived in pinedale in 2005… i actually got the chance to “ride the drift”!
so let me explain…
the green river drift is one of, if not the the longest remaining cattle drive in the country. it’s an historic event that captures the essence of the old west cowboys. Elle has always dreamed of riding horses high and free through forests and on mountainsides. she loves horses, and even though we’re from texas, we never get the chance to be around them or ride (surprisingly enough to some of you, i’m sure).
so when Ellen invited her, i saw a new light in Elle’s eyes i had never seen…
“oh my goodness!” she exclaimed. “but i haven’t ever really ridden a horse.” she timidly chirped.
now just to clarify, Elle has been on horses quite a few times, but always in the “trail ride” scenario where she isn’t actually controlling the horse herself. this is much different than riding alone and trying to herd cattle in the mountains.
“oh, well, we can just go get you on one of my horses,” Ellen calmly replied.
and so it was.
so my Elle got to spend a few glorious hours on her favorite horse of Ellen’s, pistol pete. she got to ride pete breifly last year when Ellen and Mike went on a pack trip with us into the winds (see somewhere in the middle of montana… err… wyoming). and did i mention she loves horses.
so after that, we left Mike and Ellen’s place, and headed to the upper green to one of my favorite campsites along the river, just before the lower lake. we spent the rest of the afternoon basking in the sunlight, enjoying our view and the cool, clean wyoming air.
“let’s go for a hike!” she suggested. admittedly, i wasn’t really in the mood for a hike. but i reluctantly agreed.
Elle loves hiking through the forest. i generally don’t hike for pleasure… i’m usually looking for images to make. so hiking through the dense trees isn’t always my favorite. but we did the east side lower lake trail anyway, and i’m so glad we did.
it was hauntingly beautiful. massive lodgepole pines and peeking through the trees were gorgeous vistas of the lower green river lake. we had a blast.
wyoming had a record snowfall this year, so all the creeks and rivers are surging. just beautiful.
after our short hike, we headed back to camp to find our view even prettier than before. and the sun crept lower on the horizon.
Mike and Ellen made the hour drive out to our site just to sit, drink a little whiskey, and cook us dinner.
what great friends we have.
we chatted and laughed well into the evening. until the stars came out to greet us.
and this is what i’d been waiting for for a whole, long year. last year, i camped at this very spot and attempted a star picture. it did not turn out the way i planned. so now, a full year later, i had my chance! and i couldn’t have asked for a better image.
Mike and Ellen left… they had a long drive back to get some shut eye before the early day we had ahead of us tomorrow.
as you can see, it was a very good day. perhaps the “greatest” day. she kept saying it was. but we still had a week to go up here in heaven. so the days that followed just might provide a bit of competition… and tomorrow would be a big one. Elle would get to play cowgirl on the last day of the green river drift…
on special occasions, when my ipod decides to look kindly on me and bring me a gift by way of shuffle, this abrupt chorus of fiddle will perk my ears and lift my spirit. merle haggard’s “big city” always brings vivid images to mind. images with which i am quite familiar.
like i’ve said before, i go to wyoming at least twice every year. and this year’s no different. well, okay, so it’s a little different this time; to accompany me, i have a friend (who also happens to be a girl, and more, my sweetheart).
and so it was… a perfect storm of relationship and forward progress. it was time for elle and me to see wyoming together…
elle works a regular job, so time is of the essence. as a consequence, she had to fly, whereas i drove. no matter. it may be too early to ride 24 straight hours in the car together. maybe not, but i was okay with not finding that out just yet.
i love my time alone in the car on the open road. lots of time to think. time to allow shuffle on my ipod to make me laugh, cry, contemplate, remember.
i arrived at the jackson hole airport on time, unlike for my brother only a year ago. i came up from the south, and avoided the painful crawl of yellowstone.
elle couldn’t believe she was finally here.
she’s had to listen to me “sell” the mystical land of wyoming to her for the past four years, with no way of judging for herself.
“so what’d’ya think!?” i asked when i first saw her.
“ohhh aaaannnndddrrruuuuu!!” she exclaimed, as she so often does.
so we left the “bustle” of jackson and the parks, and headed straight for green river lakes.
the upper green is one of the most beautiful places in the world, by my calculations, so i figured it was worth a quick look.
it did not disappoint. elle was floored. but we were heading into the heart of the wind river mountains the next day from a different point of entry, so we had move on.
we awoke at soda lake, near pinedale, like i’ve done so many times before… alone.
for breakfast, we watched a bald eagle soar across the surface of soda lake.
we quickly made our way up skyline drive to elkhart park, where we were to meet mike and ellen.
ellen brought her horses, jazz, comanche, and pistol pete. this was to be a genuine pack trip, though elle and i would be on foot.
quick backstory on my friend mike… although a very compelling novel could be written on this guy.
when i first moved to pinedale, wyoming, my publisher, rob, was giving me a run down of the newspaper, the town, and it’s people. he made a very specific command for me not, under any circumstances, to take any info or quotes from a guy in town named mike ramsey. he said it was because mike was always full of, you know what. but i knew there had to be more to it.
big mistake, rob.
not more than a week later, i was enjoying a cold beer at the brew pub, and who do i get introduced to? none other than the “infamous” mike ramsey.
if you haven’t gathered yet, i’m the type that immediately becomes intrigued when someone makes a point to tell me not to do something without a very good explanation. now this can be good and bad. luckily, this time it turned out to be good… i think.
we hit it off, and over the next few months we would spend hours in the car together looking for bears and telling stories from the backcountry. whiskey was often involved. it took a while, but in spite of me being a texan and a dumb kid, i think mike started to enjoy my company.
and now, over five years later, i still see him every time i’m in his neck of the woods. for some reason he still puts up with me.
something else about mike you should know; he spent over twenty five years guiding hunters and fighting fires in the maze that is the wyoming wilderness. the wind river mountains, teton wilderness, the gros ventre, yellowstone… he’s the guy you want with you if you want to make it out alive.
so months ago, when we talked about planning a pack trip for this summer for us and the two ellens, i knew it would be unique and memorable for all.
off we went. into the wilderness. from elkhart, we took the pole creek trailhead.
it was july 4th weekend, but there were still plenty of snowbanks. elle was very excited to see snow in july…
the scenery was breathtaking.
and then we made it to photographer’s point. easy to see why it’s called that.
freemont peak towered in the background as ellen and mike enjoyed the view.
then, possibly the highlight of the trip for elle, a ride in the mountains on pistol pete.
just five or six miles in, we made it to our first camp at eklund lake. we went up to mary’s lakes, but there were no suitable corrals for the horses, so eklund it would be.
buster was a perfect camp dog. and i swear he ate better that weekend than i typically do on a good week back home.
that’s definitely one of the joys of packing in your food and gear on horses… usually i only carry what i can on my back, so as you might imagine, i eat a lot of peanut butter and ramen.
elle and i posed with our “bear spray”. large caliber pistols and shotguns are better deterrents in my opinion than traditional pepper spray when you’re in grizzly country…
we took the horses to feed in a nearby pasture, and i think elle made a real connection with them.
it was a beautiful sunny afternoon in the mountains, so we relaxed, and enjoyed the quiet.
the next day, due to an ankle injury suffered the night before, elle and i decided to only hike up to mary’s to fish. we would also stay at eklund as our base camp for the next few days. no need to push ourselves to hard. we were on vacation after all!
our time in the winds was over. elle and i had to start making our way north to jackson, closer to the airport. sadly, she would have to leave the next day.
we decided to spend the day in the tetons. so we hiked jenny lake.
…elle’s favorite spot… the view and the fact the she had to leave soon made her cry. i wished i could make it all better for her, but i couldn’t. i wished i could just make the world right, but i can’t. so we decided to just enjoy what we could, while we could. that seemed to help…
i no longer identify with certain parts of mr. haggard’s tune, like i have in the past. i mean, i’m pretty blessed with what i do for a living. i often get to go to the mountains, and it’s hard for me to say that i feel like what i do is “hard work” with a straight face. don’t get me wrong; work is work. but i’m fortunate to love what i do.
however i kept getting the feeling that elle could really identify with parts of the song. you know, parts about too much work and not enough play, or dirty cities, or working every day since age 20, etc. it made me sad for her… but it also made me really excited. see, she has such a unique appreciation for this place that i love so much. i’m excited that i got to be there to see it light her eyes, to watch it grow in her, and ultimately to see it make her cry.
it reminded me of my first experience in wyoming one magical summer almost ten years ago. i’m happy to be with her as the magic of the memories start in her now. and i was starting to enjoy the fact that i now could again identify with a song, through her eyes.
our time together was over… it was so hard. normally i’d be happy to push someone off onto their plane… anxious to have wyoming all to myself once again. but those days have passed for me.
after i saw elle off, i drove up through yellowstone to cooke city, montana.
yellowstone lake was surprisingly calm.
with no cell reception and a heavy heart, i made it all the way up to cooke city and lulu pass.
i climbed as high as the snowbanks would allow in my new car. this forester had to be tested, and i’m happy to say it passed.
when the car wouldn’t go any farther, i got out and went on foot to the highest point around to get a better view of where i was…
and it occurred to me that it was time to move on.
in more ways than one.
so i left montana as quickly as i came.
on the way back i watched a mother grizzly with two cubs lumber across the hillsides.
they started to get a little too close, so i moved on…
on a whim, i decided to take union pass back to green river lakes. it’s a relatively deserted 4×4 road through beautiful and rough country. a place that i’ve found myself stuck many times before. where you may not see anyone for days.
when i finally arrived at the lakes, the area was shut down for camping due to a menacing male grizzly.
so i camped near pinedale. and i forgot all about the big city that night.
i went back out to green river lakes the next day. squaretop mountain greeted and seemed to call to me.
so i decided to leave the comfort of my car and hike deep in to the base of squaretop…
it was a dramatic journey. the clouds began to form out of nowhere, as is their mood in the mountains. a sow grizzly with two cubs had been seen recently near the trail, so i kept my .45 loaded and my hand near it’s grip.
only five or six miles in, i reached the park that sits at the very foot of squaretop.
the mood grew eerie. and i grew increasingly lonely.
i felt dark days from my past crowd in on me. i knew it was time to lay them to rest.
on my way back, far off in the distance, i noticed something large bobbing in the upper lake.
as i approached, i began to see that it was a moose swimming across the lake…. what a sight…
it started to rain as i neared the trailhead. melancholy crept in with the changing weather.
but i had a feeling this too would pass.
there was a lot going on in my heart and head on this trip. different than any other time i’ve been up there.
but it was good.
i know it was good… all of those thoughts to wrestle and subdue…
as i approached my car, i turned back for one last look. and i noticed a man fly fishing by himself.
i took a picture of him because it was beautiful.
but also, because it made me sad. the solitary life – that life that i’ve known so well, and that i loved.
and i thought to myself that all things must pass. all things must move on and grow.
and i let go of it.
and i was happy.
happy that i had a wonderful woman, my best friend waiting back home for me.