Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Teton Tales

My son in his mid teens climbing the Tetons on the Idaho side
I married into a Wyoming family of devout Teton aficionados (my in-laws have The Tetons etched into their gravestone, and I suspect we will too). Since we were living back east for the first years of our marriage, I had never been to the Tetons until my husband and I were married a year or two. When we got close to the mountain range in Grand Teton National Park on that first trip together, my husband blindfolded me, grasped my hand, and waited for my gasps of wonder and rapture. I did not disappoint his anticipation of amazed emotions. And to tell you the truth, the awe of their splendor has still not escaped me--even more than three decades later.

Feeling the Teton wind....
The Teton mountains are what Teddy Roosevelt said, "what mountains should look like." I agree. The Teton peaks are cathedrals in the clouds, granite pinnacles that inspire me in every season. Their rugged crevices that are speckled with snow and coniferous trees are a towering reminder of the majestic beauty of our world. They fill the human spirit with intrigue and awe--making us not only want to be a better steward of the earth, but also a better person. Those peaks have also at times almost spoken to me, if I could hear their voice, calling out to hang on, and to take courage.

A picture that I asked my good friend, Steven Chamberlain, to paint for me--to remember that morning when the dawn truly came a new day in The Teton Valley. Those towering peaks, even if they are far in the distance, can coach and mentor you.
In the years since my first glimpse of The Tetons, their tutoring has given me surges of courage and faith that I could do harder things than I thought otherwise. Being in the Teton Valley on the Idaho side, with the gentle rolling hills in front of the Tetons, I realized that I could climb "my autism mountain." I will never forget climbing in the early morning on a mountain there, overlooking the Teton Valley at sunrise. The sunlight dripped into my downcast heart that had been parched and crackly dry for about a year after my son's diagnosis of autism. However, since that morning, a new and hopeful morning,  I have tried to continue to "climb the autism peaks" and never look back.

The Tetons, as shown from the Idaho side, with the rolling hills in front.

It's so important to find a place that fills your soul....
This summer, on the Wyoming side, with the stark, bold views of the Tetons in the clouds and sun rays, I took courage that I could face an illness that a loved one was experiencing. The entire four days that I was there in the Teton National Park, I tried to glimpse the peaks in every angle, distant and close, allowing them to soothe my fears. And the peace came. For some reason, those summits in the clouds give me hope that I can climb higher; they give me more pluckiness that I can surmount any paths that have unanticipated turns. Again, these peaks were my friends, constant and steady.

The Tetons in the background, with the famous Mormon Row barns in front on the Wyomingside.
In the Jackson Hole, Wyoming Visitor's Center, near the gateway to the National Parks, there is a quote by Edward Abbey that reads: "Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the spirit." Yet the wilderness of the Grand Teton National Park almost did not happen; it was one of the most controversial national parks that was ever established in the U.S. The history of how it finally came to be, after several decades in 1950, makes me proud of someone whom I have never met: my husband's grandfather. His tenacity, sacrifice, and love for those peaks showed dogged determination to preserve them when the people around him did not have the same vision.

As Wyoming Commissioner for Fish and Game and later in Eisenhower's cabinet as Undersecretary of Interior, he made some political enemies because of  his life long desire to increase the Grand Teton National Park that was originally established in 1929. He sided with John D. Rockefeller Jr. that the land should be preserved when Rockefeller slowly bought 35,000 acres around the winding Snake River--near the Teton mountain range. Within this letter, it outlines his involvement in the expansion of the Grand Teton National Park. To be a Wyoming mountain man, canvasing the Teton range as a boy and then working for the government in preserving the land, he went against his own Wyoming friends and neighbors to expand the Grand Teton National Park.  Somehow people like Lester Bagley knew how precious those abruptly vertical, jagged peaks would be to our human spirits generations later.
William Lester Bagley, my husband's grandfather, is an unknown catalyst in the history of how the Grand National Park
came to be. He did not seek recognition, but his outspoken voice to combine the land of the already formed park in 1929 (with Rockefeller's gift of 35,000 acres in 1950) helped to enlarge the park--making it the sublime place it is today. 

In the Ken Burns series entitled, The National Parks: America's Greatest Idea, there is a interview with Terry Tempest Williams who currently teaches Environmental Humanities at the University of Utah.  Her thoughtful words echo my own love for the Grand Tetons. In the interview, she states, "Everybody has a favorite national park, whether it is Yosemite, the Great Smokies, but for our family it is The Grand Tetons." Yes, and it is for our family too. The Teton landscapes are living, breathing friends, tutoring me in all seasons--giving me moments that are divine, majestic, sublime. I mark them dear to my heart, where all the best tales are stored.


  1. A heartfelt thank you to you and your husband's grandfather. One of my most memorable vacations was to see the Grand Tetons. They are magnificent giants. You have beautifully stated the awe I felt every moment I was in their presence. I wish I had the courage to hike them.

  2. This spoke to me on so many levels. I had no idea the role Lester played in the formation of the park. Thank you!