Somehow, I finagled a three day weekend this week. I had the last two days of our old schedule off (which bizarrely always begins on Thursday), and the first day of our new schedule. Three days off, man; it’s a dream. (Except when you’re on the employee shuttle, decide to check your work days for the following week and realize you have tomorrow off as well, think you have mistakenly marked your days off and proceed to have a panic attack on the sun heated upholstery of the van.)
On Free Day #1 we drove to Jenny Lake, with Alex quizzing us on the songs that scratched through the radio waves (“C’mon, no one? It’s The Cure!”). We took a five minute boat ride across the lake to our hiking trail, where they inked our hands at the dock with a Leave No Trace stamp. At the head of the trail was a mismatched collection of hiking poles for anyone to use, leaning against each other like travelers wary of facing another trail. We crossed wooden bridges over the river, admired the light-tickled gush of the waterfall, and crouched at Inspiration Point, which made us feel higher than we were. From up there the Jenny Lake seemed more solid, and yet also more ephemeral, if that makes any sense at all; like someone could tug the sheet of water away at any moment, revealing the lake’s sandy bottom. We headed towards Cascade Canyon but didn’t get very far, as Ben and I had to return to Colter Bay for deli Serve Safe training (we can no longer scratch heads or use bare hands with clean consciences) and Kathleen was headed to town for a swimming workout.
That night we girls slid into Marissa’s car for a trip to the hot springs, our only knowledge some vague instructions from friends who had previously visited (internet searches and guidebook flipping yield few results, as the locals try to keep the hot springs’ location secret). Our main cue for the trail being “four short posts,” we drove twenty miles to the approximate location, parked Marissa’s car on a narrow shoulder of gravel near a “Only Authorized Vehicles” sign, and proceeded to walk unsuccessfully through a meadow for the next fifty minutes. (“Are those the hot springs?” “No, there’s no steam.” “Is that steam up ahead?” “No, those are clouds.”) We finally surrendered and turned back towards where we came, covered in bites from a pack of insatiable mosquitos. “We should ask for directions while we’re here, right?” Had we done that before setting off, we would have initially been armed with a highlighted map from a kind young man in the gift shop, and all before the sun went down. But instead our hot springs trip was delayed, and we drove back straight to Colter’s employee dining room, where we filled cups with ice cream and cereal and ate them on the dock, laughing at ourselves, promising to return to the hot springs on the night of the full moon.
I spent Free Day #2 in town, with the Teton County Library as my destination, a library card my goal. I walked along West Broadway with my backpack weighting my shoulders, reminding me of my high school days lugging calculus and European history textbooks through Boston. Except I passed gun and rod shops and cowboy themed motels, not clear windowed cafes and boutiques with posed displays.
The library is perfect. Modern but cozy, high tech yet not imposing. The lack of a P.O. Box and addition of a # sign in my Wyoming address initially baffles the librarian, but eventually I’m awarded a thin pine green card, which I sign enthusiastically. I find a small wooden table (complete with four outlets) in the back, next to a friendly redheaded woman who agrees to watch my laptop while I buy a coffee from the coffee cart (a library with $1 coffee–is there anything more right?). I answer e-mails, I write, I relax. I check out Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, which I read on the town square, while drinking iced tea and eating a lentil quinoa salad I found at the Jackson Whole Grocer’s deli (I know–can I be any more of a white girl?). On the shuttle home (funny how easily places come to be labeled “home”) I feel utterly content.
That night I buy marshmallows, graham crackers, and squares of Hershey’s milk chocolate from our grocery store (all clustered together, these s’mores siblings, so convenient). Kathleen buys a lighter, Eric brings leftover firewood, Ben drives as Marissa sits on Alex’s lap in the passenger seat. At the picnic site a fire is already burning in one of the pits, and we toss on our own wood, lay out the provisions, hunt for branches that can double as roasting sticks. Nothing tastes as good as a warm s’more in the Tetons, the mountains and bay unassuming in their beauty, the cold air highlighting the warmth of the fire. We play Chubby Bunny and Alex fits ten marshmallows in his mouth, then spits them into the fire, where they bubble into a lava-like puddle. I jokingly dare Ben to walk on an oversized log covering the fire, and Eric takes up the challenge, falls in–we cover our eyes. Only his leg hair is singed. It gets late and Alex and Marissa have to work tomorrow. The car is cold on the way back.
Kathleen, Ben and I aren’t tired. We run inside for jackets, reconvene five minutes later, drive to a lookout five miles away. We lay a sleeping bag on the empty sidewalk of the viewpoint and lie down to stargaze. I can feel the gravel through the thin fabric. The Tetons are a dusty blue, a dim nightlight among charcoal trees. We see the Big Dipper, satellites, a plane. There’s a noise that Ben thinks is a bat. I say that I’ve heard bats are attracted to blonde hair. We’re all blonde.
When it’s midnight we drive back, dizzy from an hour spent parallel to the ground.
This post is getting long, so I’ll recount Free Day #3 briefly: We woke up and drove into town, ate a non-cafeteria breakfast, wandered the aisles of KMart for toiletries. We rode the chairlift up the naked ski mountain, browsed the expensive outdoors shops and galleries in Jackson, ate supposedly gourmet ice cream. We took turns DJing the ride back. We went into the chapel where Kathleen wants to get married. We went trail riding, where a cinnamon black bear crossed the path 15 yards ahead of us. We ate corn and potatoes and salad (and steak, too, for them) outside in a field, and then we ate more s’mores. I washed the smell of campfire out of my hair for the second night in a row.
And today I woke up at 5:45am to open the deli at 6:30am.