Marathon Adventure With My Parents

Grand Tetons

It all starts with the obnoxious beep of my travel alarm a day and a half after I arrive in Jackson Hole, Wyoming to visit my parents.  Because my Mom is a morning person and the parking lot at The Rockefeller Preserve in Grand Teton National Park fills up rapidly, we are up early for a hike to Phelps Lake.  The temperature reads 28 degrees Fahrenheit with a cold fog so we almost change our minds but as both of us are picture fiends, we see the opportunity for some dramatic photos.  Fortunately, by the timePhelps Lake we get there the fog has melted away and the sun is out!

We have a lovely hike up to the lake, my Mom’s knee surgery giving her an ambulatory miracle.  We stop to admire the small joys of nature like the spaceship type shadows the water spiders make on the flat rocks below, and the fuzzy progress of a woolly caterpillar making its way across mountains of dried leaves.

We eat lunch at the lake amidst bold scurrying chipmunks, the sun warming our backs.  Feeling lazy, we watch the progress of six geese paddle across the lake, reach a protruding rock and one by one flap themselves up.  They preen, lift one leg, tuck their heads and take a nap.  We almost do the same, the sun feels so good.

Gather My Strength

When we get home, I curl up in bed with my book to get cozy under my down comforter before supper.  There’s a knock on my door and Mom tells me that Dad is up and ready for an evening adventure.  Groan.  But my Dad has a blood condition that makes him sleep late and begin his day in the afternoon, plus he’s always been a night owl.  We have to take advantage of when he is feeling good so up I get.

Snake RiverWe drive back into the park and have supper at Signal Mountain Lodge, and I gorge myself on a Lumberjack Burger while watching the sun set over Jackson Lake.  It’s the day after the full moon so our goal is to make it to the Signal Mountain Summit before the moon rises.  I do the night driving because my Dad’s vision isn’t what it used to be.  I have a coke with my burger and my Dad has coffee, but by the end of the night, I’m wishing I’d had coffee too, and lots of it!

We’re a bit late but what does it matter?  We’re the only ones up there, a warm wind is blowing for September, the moon is making the Snake River light up like a ribbon made of silver, it is magnificent.

So now I’m thinking all I have to do is drive home and I can go to bed.  I get down the winding road with minimal criticism.  My Dad and I are both bull headed and he’s used to being the driver.  I’m on the main road and ready for the home stretch, when Dad yells, “you missed the turn!”  What are you talking about?  So I find out that his next plan is to take the gravel 4WD road across the plain to the Snake River.

Beyond The Dark Woods

We bump our way slowly across the bluff, stopping a few times to roll down our windows and listen to the haunting melody of elk bugling in the distance.  We arrive at a parking lot of sorts which borders a very dark woods, made even blacker by the contrasting moonlight.  He hands us each a bear spray canister and my heart begins to pound.  I pull out my failing flashlight and shake it a few times.  My only hope is that I know my Dad has weak legs so it must be a short distance through the woods to the river.Bear Beware

As we head into the blackness, my animal instincts are on high alert so when I hear the rush of large flapping wings, I have to remind myself that it’s probably an Owl, not a Pterodactyl.  I’m braced for a large animal growl at any moment.  Thankfully, it’s an uneventful, step over a few logs, walk to the river.  Out of blackness and into an unearthly light.  The river is liquid metal, swirling silver, and completely mesmerizing.  Whenever I encounter the magic of nature, I will feel my Dad because he taught me to seek out and find these moments of beauty.  We stay as long as we can but our breath comes out in long plumes and it is a damp cold.

By the time we make it back to the highway I’m wishing I’d had coffee at supper.  Our reward is that there are few tourists on the road and on the way back we see some elk and pull over.  We are treated to an elk bugling duet at close range but it is interrupted by the flashing lights of a ranger telling us we have to keep our lights on.  We are on a blind curve and unable to pull off the road enough due to a steep hill.  After he leaves, we shut off our lights again and grab a few more moments of nature’s symphony.

Unexpected Highlight

We stop by the glistening beaver pond in hopes of a splash or furry body but all is quiet.  Suddenly I see a brilliant flash of white.  A little skunk has come out from behind a bush and with agile grace alternately leaps and sniffs about the shore.  A common creature made ethereal and alien by the light of the moon.

I throw myself into bed at 1:15 a.m., nature’s movie imprinted on my brain, grateful for having made the effort to share this day and moonlit night with my parents by receiving the gifts of nature.

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