Grand Teton

You must search for the loveliness of America; it is not obvious; it is scattered; but when you find it, it touches you and binds you to it like a great secret oath taken in silence.
— Struthers Burt, Jackson Hole Dude Rancher, 1934

While I stayed in Jackson, on of the minor sub-plots was Ruby and her search and destroy mission related to my bare feet. It's challenging to stay somewhere when the whole time it's a "the floor is hot lava/swarming with rabid cats" sort of scenario. I'm sure you can figure out which one she is - she's got that Very Intense look. Andy has a voice for Ruby that left me in floods of helpless laughter, tears streaming down my face. If he ever starts a YouTube channel for that cat, I will be its number one fan, no question.

I ventured out on Wednesday to explore Grand Teton National Park on my own, armed with direction from Andy on must-sees. I stopped at the visitor center first and spent a long time admiring animal skulls and native bead work, which is so intricate and beautifully done that it always stops me in my tracks. I also encountered my first ledger art, which was pretty exciting.

I stopped in front of the quote I posted above, unexpectedly tearing up and spending a few minutes contemplating questions I've been turning over in my mind this year. What does it mean to me to be a patriot? Am I one? Am I proud of this country in which I live? Where do I fit? In that moment I gained more clarity. I love the land I've been through. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to see it, spend time on it, and understand it from a personal perspective; it's given me a context I never had before. I feel as though I've taken that secret, silent oath. Mr. Burt articulated something I have not yet been able to put into words.

I spent part of the morning at Jenny Lake, walking along the shore in the blazing sun, admiring the green water and keeping a close eye out for bears. I desperately want to see a bear, but I'm also afraid of them, though maybe not as much as snakes. Maybe. I'll let you know after I see one. 

Jackson Lake Dam provided an unobstructed view of the mountains and also, apparently, excellent fishing, based on the couple of very happy guys below the dam. The trees and shrubs in the area were all golden yellow, rusty red, and pale green - a soft watercolor against the bright blue sky.

Jackson Lake Lodge is an imposing building, but from the inside, not the outside. Two-story floor-to-ceiling windows frame a gorgeous view of the mountains, while soft leather couches welcome you to sink into for a long, contemplative coffee. I found a sun hat there for my small noggin. Ridiculously expensive, but I'm pretty sure it's paid for itself by now, so I'm grateful.

Toward the end of the day I made my way back toward the National Elk Refuge; on the way I spent some time wandering around the Mormon Row Historic District before making my way back into town.

It's hard for me to see the change in myself from these past few months on the road, but I can tell you for sure that nobody would have gotten me to happily smile for a photo while sitting on a saddle in a touristy cowboy bar last autumn. 

Three days, two national parks, miles and miles and miles, and I couldn't have been happier. Next up? A completely senseless 20-hour detour that was one of the best decisions I've made on this adventure to date.