It’s the single digit countdown, people. That part of the season when people wind down and pack up and head home. Coffee shops are quiet and spacious where a few weeks ago they were buzzing and crowded. Work shifts drag out until you wonder how many times it’s practical to deep clean the refrigerators in one week. And I lay down to sleep and happily squirm in the knowledge that I will be home soon.
But the word nostalgia exists for a reason and these are the last few days that my work contract will have me here in Jackson Hole, with a view of the Tetons right outside my bedroom window. Despite my hermit-like avoidance of social gatherings, I have become familiar with certain aspects of this place. There’s the coffee shop where I like to plug in and write these blogs. The main square park, where you can sit and people watch the crowded downtown shopping area and dodge tourists posing in front of the piles of elk antlers. The sidewalk stroll along Snow King Avenue that leads by a stream across the back of town, past parks, rodeo grounds, the summer fair, and ski lifts to the library and mountain side trails. The view from the top of Snow King, dropping down into the forest on one side, stretching across the entire town, elk flats, and foothills out to the Grand Tetons on the other.
There are the bridges and turns of the pathway where I ran many of my distance training runs, the back roads and neighborhoods where I went on shorter excursions. The hiking trailheads surrounded by lakes and the narrow trails that I’ve hiked in sandals, trail shoes, and barefoot. The spotless night sky, where you can see every star, with no city lights interferring.
Right now, the fall leaves are gorgeously softening the landscape. Spires of red, yellow, and the constant green of the pines cluster in front of the mountains and the musty scent of autumn floats everywhere. And because my days here are numbered nine to zero, I can relax into the changed beauty and enjoy my last glimpses of this breathtaking landscape.
The summer must have been beautiful as well, I’m sure some of my photos prove it, but right now the scenery is at its zenith. Partly, I have a partiality toward fall, but partly because it’s always easier to appreciate the not-home when you know home is almost within reach again. The last two summers here have been hard and fun and stressful and rewarding and full of laughter, complaints, joy, and pain. The scenes of Jackson will always have connections to certain memories now – the Albertson’s coffee shop where I waited for the bus that took me to my little brother’s wedding, the hillside trail where I had what will probably be my last long chat with my grandmother, the employee housing loop where I first really lived away from home.
This is the best part of any enterprise, the moment when you can pause at the end and reflect on what has happened, what has been accomplished and what has changed and wrap it all up in a sturdy list. And then you turn around and find yourself standing on the edge of a cliff again. Neatly summed up experiences and timelines behind you, you have to gather your breath for the next leap.
My housing deposit is due for the winter soon. I’m headed to Beaver Creek CO, nearly twice as far from home as my current location. And that will be the last one. It’s almost time to start thinking beyond the edge of this two year expedition, which seemed so huge and complicated when I started it. Last year, when people asked me if I’d be back in the summer, I said yes. This year, I murmur and evade. “Yes, it’s been fun, no, I don’t really want to commit to coming back next year,” just leads to more questions. You have to work around it with “I’m not sure”s and “I guess we’ll see”s. They don’t fool anybody, but they fill the social obligation of conversation.
For now, the only thing I need to be sure of is basking in the shining, fall sunlight and breathing in the wet, storm air. My suitcases are lining up by the apartment door, impatient to walk into the car trunk and secure in that, it’s easy to appreciate the last few days of my mountain summer.