Friday, June 10, 2016

June 10, 2016--Always Talk To Strangers: One Brief Moment

From July 19, 2006--
The sun was setting over the Tetons.  A small crowd of visitors with drinks in hand gathered outside the Jackson Lake Lodge to watch the sun roll behind those magnificent mountains before dropping off the edge of the earth and plunging us all into instant darkness and chilling breezes.
“I take a lot of pictures but never develop any.”  Rona and I were snapped out of our contemplative end-of-day reverie by a mountain of a man with a camera hanging from his neck that was so huge with its protruding lens that only his awesome bulk could support it.  He appeared to be from the middle of the country, likely a farmer, and from his tractor we imagined he had seen enough sunsets in his life to satisfy him.  What was so special about another even in a spectacular place such as this? 
Being from New York City though, where at best there are only glimpses of the sky, we of course could never get enough of these sunsets and are thus additionally expert at extracting their full meaning from every degree of the sun’s decline.  
Thus, we ignored him.
But he persisted, “I’ve been coming here ever year since 1987.  Sometimes twice a year.  Me and the Mrs. drive our RV here all the way from Georgia, where we’re from.”   
Resisting being brought back to the mundane, I tried half-turning my back to him.  Rona peered into her glass of sweet Vermouth, playing with the ice. 
“You see my son over there?" he persisted, "He was three the first time we came here.  He also had a camera.  He'd spend three whole days taking pictures and carefully advancing the film.  They still used film back then.  When we were about to leave he took the film out of the camera and threw it in the trash.  In one of them cans right there.  My wife, Rosie, she was fit to be tied and while she rummaged around in the trash looking for the film I asked Billy, he's the tall one there by the bench, why he did that.  Exasperated, he said to me, ‘Dad, I’m done taking those pictures.’ He was annoyed why I was asking about it.  He told us just taking the pictures was what was important to him.  Not the pictures themselves.  You see he knew to me at that time it was the pictures themselves that were important."
That got our attention.  We’re always interested in anything that promised something new and what he was saying about what was important to each of them seemed to promise that.  I felt I had mischaracterized him. Made invalid assumptions based on how he looked. So I asked, “Then what keeps bringing the three of you back here every year?" I smiled, "It’s a long drive.”
“Well, you see I’m a forester, a freelance one, and I come here to check on this place.  To see how things are changing.  And they are.  No doubt 'bout that.  And I don’t mean the result of them fires up in Yellowstone.  That’s a part of nature.  And good at that.  It’s the other thing that worries me.”
“The ‘other thing?’”
“You know what the scientists have been saying.  I’ll show you what I mean.  Look over there at Mount Moran.  You see that glacier over there?”  We looked across Jackson Lake and nodded.  “Well, when I started trekking out here that glacier was twice the size it is now.  Don’t take me for a tree-hugger.  That I’m not.  But it seems to me that we have this one brief moment."
"I'm not sure I'm following thou," I said.
"For me it’s almost over, my heart’s not been right, but for Billy over there, who’s only twenty-two, I’m worried.  You know, in the past it was religious fanatics and cult leaders who predicted the end of the world was coming.  They even came up with dates for that.  Of course it never happened.  Not yet anyway. But what’s different now is that we have every scientist agreeing that things are not heading in a good direction for us.  So that’s why I keep my eye on that glacier.”
Though understanding, this was not a lesson we had come all this way to hear--we wanted to just take things in--so I changed the subject, “You mentioned that you do forestry work freelance.  I always assumed that guys in your field all worked for the government.”
“Well, that’s true.  Everyone else I went to school with does work for the Forestry Service or some other government agency.  I, though, saw a niche for myself so I’ve been doin' it on my own.”
“How’s that?  How does that work?”
He suddenly turned silent; but since he started this I pressed him New-York style, “You worked for developers or something?”
After a moment he shrugged and said, “Sort of like that.”  I held up to give him a minute.  It was clear that he really didn’t want to talk about this.  But he added, “You’ve driven around this area, right?”
“Yes, just yesterday and today through eastern Washington and then across the panhandle of Idaho to get here.”
“And what did you see?”
“Most of it was amazingly beautiful,” Rona said, “We followed the Clearwater River for more than 200 miles.”
We didn’t get where he was going with this so we just looked back at him.  He hitched his pants up over that remarkable belly, “Did you see all those developments closing in?”  We nodded again.
He didn’t answer his own question.  He just stood there staring off at Mount Moran. 
Then he looked around to catch Rosie’s eye, she had been circling us,  “There she is.  I better get going before I catch hell.  Nice talkin’ to you. But one more thing.”


"Like you, Billy just wants to take it one moment at a time. Can't really blame him, considering." He gestured across the lake, "So that's what's going on with him and the camera. He knows what's happening out there and prefers not to make a record of it. What else can I tell you?" He took a deep breath, and from deep within himself said, "There is one last thing before I go."

"What's that?"

"I'm just carrying around this here camera. Haven't taken a picture with it the past three years."   
He laughed and with that was gone.

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