Teri Orr: Dateline — somewhere on the edge of Idaho and Wyoming
The first time I headed this way I was 27 years old. I was living at Lake Tahoe. I had signed up for a two-week Outward Bound course at the suggestion of my “godfather” Nick. I was divorced and my ex had extended time with the kids coming up. Nick thought I needed to do something with my two weeks without my kids other than — another chunk of misspent time in San Francisco. I was excited for the course and scared. When the letter came (this was the early fall of 1978) canceling the adventure, I was crushed. Nick didn’t miss a beat. He told me he’d lend me a sleeping bag (it was his son’s but I didn’t know that at the time). That I needed to get in my car and drive away and really “see the West.” This from a man who recently moved to Tahoe from Jersey.
I grew up outside of San Francisco and my grandparents had had a home, when I was young, in Oceanside. I was living at Lake Tahoe. What did he mean “see the West?” He was almost 30 years older than me. He had stood up for my children as their godfather, when we joined the Lutheran Church, after I got divorced. He and his wife were my business neighbors and my touchstones and he was the smartest person I ever knew — and that held — right up until he died about a dozen years ago.
He said The West was so much more than what I had seen. In his former life, he had spent some summers in Jackson Hole at a dude ranch — far from his life in New York and New Jersey, with his only child, Craig. He taught him to ride horses. Decades later, Craig, in turn, would teach his dad to ski.
Nick insisted I treat the trip like a moving Outward Bound course. No staying in hotels for me. And except for gas — he figured I could eat for $10 a day (this was the ’70s but still it was rather spartan). He gave me the challenge. And he suggested I visit Idaho and Wyoming. Utah came about at the last minute. He thought I might be interested in that little ski town where he bought another ski area, in addition to the Alpine Meadows resort that he already owned. (And he had never even stepped foot on, until long after he bought the distressed asset at the insistence of his friend and ski area board member, Art Linkletter.)
Somehow, the first night I got from Tahoe to Idaho. I had a road atlas but pre-cellphones and Google I had to rely on my wits to know where I was. Where I was … was lost. I was so entranced with following the giant yellow moon. I had never seen a moon so bright and low and perfectly round. I drove until I was completely nowhere that matched my road atlas. Lost is actually where I was. I found a dirt road and an open field and I pulled out my sleeping bag in the field and fell fast asleep. When you are young, you can fall asleep like that on a beanfield. And when I woke in the morning that’s exactly where I was — a beanfield in Idaho. There was a trailer on the property and a tall lanky guy, close to my age, was sitting on a porch. I don’t know that we had terms like — on the spectrum — back then but those would have been the words that should have come to mind. He didn’t make any fast moves. Kinda nodded and asked if I slept OK. Said I could use the bathroom inside if I wanted. And did I drink coffee? I was grateful for the inside privy and I explained I had no taste for coffee and then maybe a little too brightly, I said I really was a tea girl. I went inside and brushed my teeth and came out to find a cup of steaming tea waiting for me. So I sat down at his tiny wooden table and drank my tea. And realized there wasn’t going to be a lot of conversation. I also saw a shotgun in the corner.. He seemed happy to have some company. I thought I should probably not overstay.
By that night I was in Sun Valley and somehow making my singing debut at the Christiana Inn. For younger readers please understand there were no karaoke bars then. They had not been invented. A guy in the band asked if I could sing. I was singing along to their songs. I was spending half a day’s “allowance” having a glass of wine there and I said I had never tried singing, not really. I have no idea now what I sang but they asked me to sing more and they bought me a second glass of wine. And cheese fondue. Some sweet young woman at the bar asked where I was staying and I said I had no idea and she said she just lived a block behind the bar — so I stayed with her.
By the time I got to Jackson Hole I was so in awe of the scenery I just kept stopping to shoot pictures with my tiny point-and-shoot Kodak. I entered the Cowboy Bar in the late afternoon and met some locals who told great stories and a woman — at least twice my age — offered me a place to stay. She ran a thing called the College of Knowledge. She turned out to be a rather legendary eccentric figure but I wouldn’t learn that for years. She told me all the things I needed to do to be a good parent. And in her book, that included finding myself another husband — soon — to help raise those kids. I wasn’t sure that was the advice I was seeking.
I owed Nick a call. When I reached out to tell him the places I had been, he suggested, since I still had time left, to head down to Utah — Park City. His son, Craig, was there and he could put me up for a night, maybe two. I called Craig and he said if I could make there by six, he was hosting a dinner for some American Airlines folks to talk about the winter ahead. The dinner was going to be at someplace called the Claimjumper and it all sounded great.
All of this flooded uninvited through my head as I have been weaving my way up from Park City — back and forth between Wyoming and Idaho. My dear friend has a ranch in the shadow of the Tetons and asked if I wanted to come up to see the sandhill cranes land and take off for a few days. It only happens this time of year. Google helped me arrive safely tonight to the edge of the Teton River. The cranes announced their arrival at dusk. I will be here, not too far from the beanfields, this Sunday in this Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the founder of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts. She has been a member of the TED community since 2007 and founded TEDxParkCity in 2009.
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