Monday, August 18, 2008

Uncharted Shilling Like You've Never Seen Before

Wyoming’s Jenny Lake is Picture-Perfect for Ponderers

Of all the novels I’ve started writing but haven’t finished, I like the one that ends at Jenny Lake the best.

In this story, a man ravaged by the trials of life has lost his regular vision and is forced to see the world as though through flames of sticky, watery, fire that coalesce and distort the objects and people he most wants to see. At the end of the story, as he despairs whether he will be able to see normally again, he visits the shores of Jenny Lake with his family, a dying wish, for at the lake, once his family has gone to bed that night, he plans to kill himself. But as he watches his young son wade in the waters of the lake, leaping onto boulders and chasing minnows in the shallows over the coarse sand, an oval of his vision around his son begins to clear. As he concentrates on watching his son play – watching him enjoy the present, with no thoughts for the future or the past – his vision clears completely, and for the first time in years, he is able to see.

The book may never be written. The story may not even be good. But Wyoming’s Jenny Lake is still a favorite place of mine to contemplate, imagine, and, yes, watch my children frolic in the clear, cool waters of the present.

Jenny Lake lies on the east of the Teton Range in Grand Teton National Park. Since glaciers carved this lake, two miles wide, about a mile long and about 260 feet deep at its deepest point, its shores and bottom are not muddy. Especially on the east, the lake shore is a pleasant mix of coarse sand, gravel and tumbled rock. Some of the larger rocks lie above or just at the water’s surface, providing stepping stones for a pleasant game of leapfrog to waders. When the weather’s hot – eighty degrees or so – the cool waters of the lake feel just fine.

More pleasant is to sit on one of the rocks, feet on the sandy bottom, as you watch the lake’s innumerable minnows swim in the water, darting over your submerged feet, sharing the same few cubic inches of water.

The lake is rimmed with forest, mostly of pine and quaken aspen, though a few cottonwoods thrive closest to the shore. The trees are filled with birds who trill and chirrup as we splash in the water. Bold finches and ravens aren’t bothered by our presence, perching on branches or waddling or hopping up paths as we swim or wander. One of the cottonwoods, however, appears to belong to a rather feisty chipmunk, who screeched and twitched his tail at us for a good fifteen minutes after we arrived.

The Tetons rise practically from the lake itself on the west, making for early sunsets as the bulk of the mountain elevates the horizon high into the sky. Even from the east side of the lake, it’s easy to see forests, boulder fields, snow fields and other features on the mountains. Inviting as well is Cascade Valley, a significant dip between two mountains at the lake’s midpoint. A tw-mile hike around the western shore of the lake brings you to that valley and two points of interest: Hidden falls, an 80-foot waterfall, and Inspiration Point, which offers views of the lake.

On past hikes on that trail, I’ve seen deer and been within minutes of a bear that ambled across the trail. Be aware this is wild country where animals are the owners. We humans are visitors, invited back to nature to see what we’ve forgotten.

History: Jenny Lake is named for Jenny Leigh, a Shoshoni Indian wife of Richard “Beaver Dick” Leigh, a Englishman who built himself a reputation as a skilled guide and mountain man on both the Idaho and Wyoming sides of the Tetons. The couple acted as a guide to a Federal government survey of the Yellowstone and Teton areas in 1872, shortly before then-President Theodore Roosevelt declared Yellowstone as the nation’s first national park. Lake Leigh to the north of Jenny Lake is named for Richard Leigh himself.

What to bring: Sturdy hiking shoes, binoculars, a picnic lunch, sound recorder and camera, swimming suits, sandals, towels, sunscreen and a lot of time. There’s enough at Jenny Lake to keep even the most antsy busy, and enough quiet there to keep the thoughtful thinking.

(You're in luck, folks -- What a day trip we had this weekend. With some minor picture difficulty, which I should have sorted out this evening.)

Update: The picture plague problem appears to be fixed.

No comments: