My Jackson Hole Experience, part 2

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photo by Valdemaras D. on Unsplash

In Jackson, nestled in the mountains, animals were everywhere. At twilight, the deer would come down from the mountains into the town to graze. I used to drive about 10 miles out of Jackson just experience nature all around me. I would drive on one of the most beautiful mountain roads I had ever seen. I would cross Snake River over a little bridge, and then head back into Jackson again. Once, when I was driving over that bridge, I looked to my right and locked eyes with a swooping bald eagle. This moment had a rush — the feel of a jolt of a live wire. I was changed by this, but in a way I could not then, nor now, quite put into words. I also drove into to Yellowstone, and seeing a buffalo did something you’re not supposed to — I got out of the car to take photos of it. I was careful to keep the car between the heavy beast and myself, and it paid me no mind as it grazed just a foot away, but I could smell its musk, and hear its breath and I felt giddy with the thrill of it. I saw moose, a small herd of them, in the back yard of a friend’s house. They are also fairly aggressive, and should not be approached. I watched them from the kitchen window as they sat around a baby by her mama, a bull dad, a couple of aunts and uncles nearby. They are also large animals. I heard the story of an ambulance that was attacked by a young moose, and while the ambulance killed the moose, the moose also totaled the vehicle.

Another benefit of Jackson was the lack of light pollution, once you were a mile or so away from the town. I once drove out of town and watched a meteor shower so intense it looked like the stars were zipping by and spinning as they fell, in the perfect darkness. This was the most beautiful place I have ever seen.

I soon made friends, not only on the newspaper, but also with another young woman who, like me, had a part-time cleaning job at the Sundance Inn. Her primary job was as a radio D.J., and she had the smooth, sexy voice to match.

Still finding it tough to make ends meet, I also worked a few hours a week in small shop that sold iron-on T-shirts — sold to the tourists as souvenirs and novelties. The T-shirt shop was located in another small wooden cabin, and to cool it off the owner had several fans going at once. This constant whirring, together with the radio loudly playing frazzled my nerves, and to this day I get overwhelmed with too much background noise.

Working for the Jackson Hole Guide, I found out that I was a mediocre reporter, at best. Covering Cops and Courts, I would go through the arrest logs and talk to the sheriff’s deputies any new and interesting crimes. I was very green, and couldn’t help but think they were laughing at me behind my back. I had no idea why I had that idea, only that it was strong in me. Covering the local school board was the most boring thing I have ever done. I had to bite the inside of my cheek, or my tongue just to keep myself from going to sleep. If anyone would put a gun to my head today and ask me to name two topics that were discussed, I would just say, “Go ahead and shoot.” I have no clear memory of the school board meetings, except for the excruciating, mind-numbing tedium I experienced. Once in a while the editor would feel sorry for me and throw me a bone of writing a feature story — I lived for them, and considering that I was hired on my strength in that field, I didn’t understand why I was not assigned to do more of them. I got to cover a fancy fundraising dinner where the movie stars came down to ski — under the guise of doing charity. Margaux Hemingway said, “I’m just here for the children,” even though it wasn’t a children’s charity. I met Sally Struthers (what a sweet woman! who saw that I was taking notes by hand and slowed down for me), Ruth Buzzy (quite bitchy) and Adam West. Adam West was a gentleman, very funny and kind, and if I could have, I would have spent the entire evening just interviewing him.

Once, sent to interview a talented carpenter and furniture maker, I met Harrison Ford, who lived in Jackson Hole at the time and wanted to show this carpenter, who was also a friend, his new motorcycle. I didn’t say a lot, I just followed Mr. Ford around like a puppy, and he, in turn, only gave me a few funny looks.

Once, and only once, I got lucky — I got assigned to a very big story. Or, as the editor said as he sent me out there with a giant sigh, “I don’t have anyone else in the newsroom.” There was a large fire at one of the fancy hotels by the Grand Tetons. I was petrified. I stopped by a gas station and bought a pack of cigarettes, a habit I quit three years prior, and smoked on the way to covering the fire (no, the irony was not lost on me). My luck was finding the one person who noticed the fire and, and put it out as fast as he could — with the snow plow. However, the main building where the dining room was located was damaged heavily — tall glass windows were blown out. This was my first and only front page story for the Guide.

I was also about a year into my long distance relationship (of writing long letters and phone calls) with Jeff (now my husband of over 25 years) at that time, and he came for a visit. It was the only time I got a speeding ticket on the highway — when I was going to nearby Casper’s airport to pick him up.

I was so miserable with this job — actually my three jobs — and when Jeff visited me, he told me that if I was so unhappy with the news job, I should quit. So I marched into the editor’s office, while the newsroom was full of people and Jeff was sitting at my desk, and told the editor that I was quitting and why. He begged me to stay, and promised me more feature stories. So, I stayed on.

When the end came a couple of months later, it was not a surprise to me. I was exhausted, working three jobs, but that wasn’t what got me. What got me was covering high school graduation. I spaced out, completely during the speeches, and when it was all over, I couldn’t think of a single quote from the entire ceremony. I turned in a shriveled piece, heavy on description but light on content. The editor called me into his office one day when everyone else was gone, and told me that I was done, to take my things and clear out. I didn’t cry there, I just picked up the few framed photos, I had on my desk, a few pens and one extra blank reporter’s notebook (I took it out of spite and never regretted that), and left to go to my cabin. There I broke down and sobbed. I disappointed myself, but worst of all, I thought that I disappointed my journalism teacher and hero, Mr. Pearson who believed in me for reasons I could not fathom.

I stayed on in Jackson for another three months, partly because I didn’t want to run back to Denver in complete humiliation, partly because Jeff and I were talking about me moving to Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and me going to graduate school there while he finished up his undergraduate work, and partly because I wanted to sort myself out.

My friend, Debbie Holly, took a bus to Jackson, and helped me move, each taking turns driving back to Denver. I returned in the evening, and after dropping Debbie off at her place, I came home only to find that my parents had gone out to dinner with friends, but changed the locks and my keys no longer worked. I sat outside, in my car, in that moment feeling like an utter failure, and also feeling so glad to be back home. Sure, Jackson Hole might not have worked out, but I gained several new friends, experienced great beauty, lived in a tiny cabin, and learned — although it hurt my pride — that I am not a great reporter (even if I was a good writer).

I did wind up getting my master’s degree from Southeast, and I did end up marrying my boyfriend who gave me the courage to quit a miserable job in the first place.

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Writer and storyteller, immigrant, wife, mom, knitter, collector of jokes, lover of cheap, sweet wine.

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