Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

I’m in Jackson Hole for a quick business trip with Jason.


I didn’t have to come, in fact I probably shouldn’t have come since there are piles of things backlogged on the homefront, but I couldn’t resist.

I’m just tagging along with Jason while he does a photo shoot at a ranch. He’s been chosen as the poster artist for next year’s “Jackson Hole Fall Arts Festival” and he needed to get some reference material to work from since the painting has to be done by November for promotional materials.

The timing of this trip was a little precarious in that Jason is already past the deadlines for his “Cowboy Artists of America” show paintings and I didn’t think he could spare the time away from the easel. But I didn’t want to say anything because I try not to micromanage him, mostly, and I was pretty game for a getaway.

I was a tad concerned though.

Jason said he wanted to go up now to capture the seasonal colors for the painting.

Makes sense.

But as we got closer and closer to Jackson the haze that we’d notice hovering over Cache Valley when we left yesterday was getting thicker and thicker. As we rounded the last corner out of the canyon before Jackson, a sign was posted, “CAUTION: FIRE AHEAD.”

Bad sign.

The fire was in the mountains right next to Jackson and the smoke was so thick you could hardly see the glorious Tetons, which are usually pristine eye-poppers even in the distance. And, there was nary a red, yellow, or orange leaf to be found in the vast surrounding wilderness.

I asked Jason some questions I probably should have asked about 3 1/2 hours before, “Did you call anyone to see what conditions were like up here? Did you ask if the leaves had changed yet?”

Don’t get me wrong, I was happy to be in Jackson under any conditions, but there does exist a responsible part of me and it does know there is very little leeway in our time and budget right now, so I just wanted to make sure we were making the most of this trip.

Jason didn’t answer my questions, which answered my questions.

Trying to fake positiveness, I said, “I bet you can still get some good reference of the cowboys, so long as you don’t shoot from too far away, and the smoke might create a cool atmosphere.” Then I fake cheerfully asked what the plan was.

Jason said he did call ahead to make some arrangements about shooting at a specific ranch because they have a large remuda of horses they bring down from the ranch to some nearby corrals every evening and he wanted to catch the action.

“Let’s go then!” I fake rallied.

The ranch was north of Jackson which might help since the smoke was in town and mostly blowing south, so we did have that in our favor.

That’s about all that was in our favor.

Before we even left Jackson city limits we hit a line of cars stretching clear to Teton National Park. The road was closed down to one lane for construction and they were only letting cars through one direction at a time in increments of 2o minutes. It was 4:15. I asked Jason if he knew what time “evening” was on the ranch.

He answered, “They didn’t say. I was just hoping to be there by now.”

We weren’t, and might not be for a while.

“Should we call, you think?” I suggested, fake unconcerned.

He called the ranch and told an impatient lady who he was and what he was doing and that we were stuck in the construction and didn’t want to miss the horses and cowboys. She said they brought the horses down between 5:00 and 5:30, usually closer to 5:30, so we should be okay. Eventually it was our turn to go, but we snailed along behind the long line of cars. Finally, we were only three cars back from the entrance to the ranch when the front car came to a quick stop. We watched as a cowboy stood out on the road and stopped traffic to let the ranch cowboys and the remuda cross the road to the nearby corrals.

It was 5:04.

We’d missed it.

The surrounding smoke suddenly felt very thick.

This was the whole reason we’d driven up.

Sure, we can always find plenty of fun things to do and see in Jackson and we had planned to do a couple things before we left, but this was supposed to mostly be a business trip and being recreational without completing any of our intended business would feel irresponsible.

Jason could have been home painting. I could have been home tackling the neglected mountains of dishes, paperwork, and laundry.

Jason pulled off the road and looked vacantly out the window at the faint silhouette of Grand Teton and the dull green trees below it, “The leaves are usually turning by now. It must be because of unseasonable heat. We’re stupid. We probably shouldn’t have come.”

I questioned the “we” of those statements, but didn’t say so. I was trying really hard not to be mad that we didn’t have a better plan. That more information wasn’t gathered and more arrangements made before we drove 225 miles at $3.83 a gallon when we’re already tight on time and budget.

My eyes started to sting, from the smoke, I blamed.

I cursed the fire and the smoke, the heat and the leaves, the construction, the impatient lady who gave us faulty information, and I cursed Ja . . . ckson.

Cursing felt good, but was counterproductive. We were here and we might as well try and make something work. I blinked back the sting and conjured up some fake initiative, “Let’s think. Who do we know here? Do we have any other resources or contacts?”

A beam of light suddenly broke through the smokey haze and Jason perked up, “Hey, there is a guy I once did a commission for who owns a ranch near here. I wonder if he’d let me shoot there?”

We didn’t have his phone number, but we decided to just show up and take our chances, even though chance had been a total dork to us so far.

Chance finally decided to play nice and sweet Carl at the Gros Ventre River Ranch immediately took us in and pampered us. On a moment’s notice he lined up a photo shoot with his cowboys and horses for first thing in the morning then treated us to a prime rib dinner in the dining room with his guests. We ended up sitting at a table with some art collectors who owned some of Jason’s paintings and were so excited to unexpectedly meet us. We had a great time visiting with them and our host Carl.

We had gourmet bananas foster for dessert. I liked it except for the bananas and the foster. But it was super cool to watch the chef work the huge flame when he poured the booze in the hot pan (the alcohol cooks out, of course, I think).

By morning, the smoke had mostly cleared and Jason had a great photo shoot. I took a long bike ride through Teton Park, soaked in the tub for a while, then kicked back in a hammock to read a book for hours, which I NEVER get to do. (Ironically, the book is about an amazing WWII soldier whose resourcefulness and attitude helped him triumph over extreme difficulty.)

It all worked out.

Moral of the story: Fire can ruin a photo shoot, or cook up prime rib and bananas foster. Just don’t let the smoke cloud your vision.

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