Friday, August 10, 2007

Mountain Kids

I'm getting ready to leave the Teton mountain range area in Wyoming and drive Janet and Jack back to the sloping ridges of New Canaan. Both spent a month each at the same ranch camp (Teton Valley Ranch) southeast of Jackson Hole, and Jack additionally had a month with us at our lodge unit at the base of the Jackson Hole ski area while Janet's camp session was going on. My mountain kids; I'm grateful that we have been able to provide this gift to them.

I was basically a summer "beach child," spending upwards of six hours a day lying prone on the sand at Comp Beach, especially as a teenager. My family also spent at least two weeks a summer on a beach island off the Jersey shore. Although a couple months of our childhood winters lead us up to the mountains in and around Stowe, Vermont, my brother and I were not mountain kids (until my brother lived in Stowe year 'round during his twenties). But Janet and Jack - they're most assuredly of the mountain variety.

Both children have been spending time every summer and one week per winter out in Jackson since they were toddlers. They learned and continue to appreciate and respect the wide and varied, rugged landscapes out here, as well as the power and beauty of the Snake River that winds it's way through the Teton Valley. With their Jackson-based aunt and uncle as their first guides - and now their camp counselors - they have trekked through sage brush and shale up and around many a peak. They've stood on the tops of mountains at elevations that astound. It's all a far cry from Connecticut in many ways and that's what makes it special and unique. And Teton Valley Ranch serves to keep them grounded, if only for those 30-days and a few more 24-hours beyond the final campfire of the session.

When my sister-in-law first told us of the camp during the summer of Janet's fourth grade summer, we felt it would be a terrific way to get her away from her "safe" cocoon of New Canaan and get her unplugged from all things electronic for a month. She would meet and bunk with girls from all over the country, spend an inordinate amount of time outside, active and hopefully eager, all with the Grand Teton as a backdrop.

Since her fifth grade summer, Janet has had one month a year where the most amazing things happen. All of the other 11 months, she is a shower-a-day girl, practically panicking if it looks as though that can't happen. Her clothes must match and be oh-so-specifically purchased at the "right" store, and feminine and pretty and clean. And the hair, oh the hair! Brushed and flattened or curled and blow-dried and styled just so. The eye make-up application is an art even her 50-year-old mother hasn't managed to master. But from the middle of July through the middle of August, she is going three to four to five days without a shower when her group goes on back-packing trips and/or pack trips into the mountains with the horses. Through the wonders of e-camp I can see her wearing mismatched socks, mismatched rain gear, baseball and knit caps pulled jauntily over her pleated hair. Her knees are sometimes cut-up, her western riding wear is dusty and worn-in and decidedly not East Coast trendy. And in every photo she is wearing the biggest smile I have ever seen and she has never looked more gorgeous. On the day of the final rodeo, my pampered pet is roping like a champ, giddyapping around the ring like the cowgirl she has temporarily become and doing the "boot dance" like a pro.

For one month a year, she - and now Jack - prove that they can easily exist without cell phones, television, I-pods, and computers. I should only be so lucky the rest of the year.

And for one month a year I get to be a mountain mama, doing a lot of what the kids are doing but without cool counselors and in a more cautious manner; ah, youth!
I love the peace and serenity I find at this altitude and the sound of the fluttering aspen leaves and swaying pines is as calming as waves on the seashore. The vastness of the Wyoming sky is a marvel.

At the final campfire of the camp season, I feel as wistful as the campers, and the melancholy is palpable. There is one camp song in particular that never fails to choke me up as we take one final look around at the hills and mountain ranges and the dry, western heat sinks away into cool nip. The first lyrics haunt me and comfort me all at once, and I find that every July they spring immediately to my ears as we set our sights Westward.

"Yellowstone winds, oh they're calling me back again. 'Come here to me my friend,' they whisper to my soul..."

I love that my mountain kids' souls are also being nourished by those winds. And that in addition to New Canaan, they can call Teton Valley "home."

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