This August (2015) I’m enjoying a vacation with my daughter Susanne and my 12 year-old grandson, Oliver. A violinist with the Pittsburgh Symphony, Susanne has been playing in the Grand Teton Music Festival for 17 summers, making me feel incredibly old and outdated.
This trip is my fourth, and each of my three earlier trips has been special for me, in which I get pleasantly intoxicated by the beauty of nature and also by the symphony concerts performed by the Grand Teton Music Festival Orchestra, whose members are from top-notch orchestras around the world, as well as their soloists and conductors.
The first humans appeared in this area known as Jackson Hole after the Ice Age ended 11,000 years ago. Archeologists believe that they were Paleo-Indians who hunted and killed animals such as bison, elk, rabbit and deer with spears made of stones and also gathered plants to survive. Only 6,000 years ago, humans learned to make fire and roasted animals they hunted. Metal would be invented thousands of years later.
Here, in 2015, wherever you go, you see the names of early explorers — Goodwin Lake, Jenny Lake, Jackson Peak, Curtis Canyon, Hoback River, Mt. Owen, Mt. Moran, Mt. Wister, and more. But the name Grand Teton is not the name of a traveler, nor is Teewinot Mountain; they both describe the shapes of the mountains. “Teton” came from les trois tétons, meaning three breasts, referring to Grand Teton, Middle Teton, and South Teton, but Teewinot is the Native American word for “many pinnacles.”
The name Jackson Hole came from David Jackson, one of four French explorers who passed through the area in the early 1800s, and the word “Hole” indicates the shape of the location surrounded by the panorama of tall mountains.
Coming here was a bit stressful for this granny. I missed my connecting flight at Denver International Airport at 7:39 a.m. and waited long hours there. My attempt to report to my husband this unexpected crisis failed, because I forgot it was a Saturday, and I had dialed his work number, which I discovered later.
How glad I was when I saw her and my grandson waiting for me in the crowd four hours later.
The concert that evening was again wonderful. I particularly enjoyed soloist James Ehnes’ performance of Brahms Violin Concerto. He played it with sensitivity, warmth and excellence the way the composer might have wanted all violin virtuosos to handle it.
On the second day, a Sunday, we drove to Grand Teton National Park a mile away, Susanne behind the wheels, and had a picnic lunch by the lake. Many people with children were having the best time of their lives there, some swimming, some kayaking, and some having a picnic, like us. After lunch, we discovered that the surrounding bushes were loaded with bead-like purplish berries.
Oliver recognized them as huckleberries. “Grandma, these make great milk shakes,” he informed me. “They taste similar to blueberries but sweeter and a bit tarter.” We three began to pick them, and by the time we left the lake area we had more than a pint of huckleberries. Oliver, who has spent eleven summers here in the Tetons, is heading for the creative writing program at Pittsburgh CAPA (Creative and Performing Arts) Magnet School this fall and was eager to educate his grandma.
“Watch out for ticks, Grandma. Some can bury themselves in your skin and lay eggs and makes you sick with Lyme disease. See that animal that looks like a squirrel? That’s a pika. It looks just like a squirrel but doesn’t have a bushy tail like squirrels do. But they can move very fast, much faster than squirrels!”
He shared with me a poem he wrote after he got here a few days ago, which I’ll cherish for a long time.
We sped though an open valley,
A valley of open space,
And we saw the clouds moving slowly
At their own majestic pace.
We walked along a narrow path,
A path surrounded by trees,
Their leaves moving ever so slightly,
As if dancing in the breeze.
This vacation for me was yet another opportunity to appreciate the beauty of nature, superb symphonic music, and togetherness with my loved ones.