Theme-wise, once we learned from Carol Querry, our resident historian on such matters, that this particular powwow marked the 20th anniversary since Ernie first brought his highly improvisational bunch up the North Fork to Defa's Dude Ranch, a sense of history, both of place and personality, came to permeate the weekend.
Having been accused many times previously of being both "older than dirt" and possessing the natural speed of tectonic plates, I'm pretty much in my element when thoughts turn to the psychological influences of geology.
With much of my misspent youth being taken up by the Great Ice Age, it was possible, with sufficient inclination and patience, to monitor both the movement and scouring components of the glacier community then busy shaping what we now know as the High Uintas. Before dirt, entertainment could be found in the strangest of places.
In the nearby southwestern aspect of the Uintas, the greater Bald Mountain community, glacier activity ended up pruning all but the few isolated peaks that rose as islands above the massive icecap. This was during the Pleistocene Epoch. At the time, of course, no one was really hip to such goings on. During those years, what happened under the icecap remained under the icecap.
Extending radially, almost as spokes from a wheel, were long tongues of ice that would give the canyons of the Bear, Weber, Provo, Duchesne, and Rock Creek rivers their geologic singularity. And, as we wilderness advocates would readily attest, the sculpturing it provided to all of these drainages is flat-out stunning.
Oftentimes, the slow, plodding, irresistible force of the glacier would pick up rocks anywhere from pebble-sized to house-sized and carry them along for the ride, only to deposit them at some distant point once the ice finally melted.
They would be strangers in a strange land, their physical character totally unlike that of the bedrock upon which they came to rest. These misplaced phenomena would come to be called, in the geological vernacular, glacial erratics. Being somewhat eccentric and irregular to their adopted environment, not unlike, say, expatriates everywhere, over time I came to see them as fellow travelers.
And when I look back on the long strange trip that brought Ernie and his revelers from his old digs out on Rasmussen Road, from where the Summit County power structure first saw fit to send them, for reasons of non-compliance, out into the wilderness, it seems most fitting that, now twenty years ago, they would find yet another promised land along the North Fork of the Duchesne River at Defa's Dude Ranch.
Fitting, because if ever there was a collection of glacial erratics deserving of splendor in the grass, Ernie's bunch, still keeping the faith in these years following his passing, is the one. And, not unlike their geological counterparts, these erratics continue to provide information about the direction of cultural flow and the distance of their journey.
From the very beginning, Ernie's erratics have flaunted a lifestyle that includes significant musical and campfire-storytelling virtuosity, cultural rituals quite well suited to their more recent digs on the cusp of the Uinta wilderness and examples of which go back to the same Rasmussen Road property that once played host to legendary demolition derbies, rodeos, and "Sunday Services."
With the passing, a year or so back, of Ernie's longtime partner-in-crime and dude-ranch owner Geno Defa, the future of both the operation of the ranch and its viability as a continued venue for the annual gathering that celebrates both Ernie's cult of personality and rather indulgent philosophy is up in the air.
But not to worry! Ernie, although he more than likely never heard of Ram Dass, was a "Be Here Now!" kind of guy. Missing the party that is the present due to laments about the past or worries about the future were never part of his cognitive persuasion.
So, whether or not his apostles will once again be sent out into the wilderness in search of yet another burning bush to sing and spin yarns around, there is a sense that, although Defa's has proven perfect to the task, it's the longtime participants, the glacial erratics themselves, who provide the true sense of place.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.