A Day In The Canyon

There are currently two AmeriCorps interns who are out of commission (a ski accident and knee surgery, respectively) at the Teton Science School, and as one of them, I have spent much of my past couple of weeks as a witness to the comings and goings of the Jackson Campus. Coyote Canyon is somewhat of an independently functioning entity; it is an intricate, ever-evolving living system. Within the canyon walls, there is a community of faculty, staff, students, flora and fauna, driven by the sun, the (sometimes relentless) wind, and the Tet on mountain air, all which together channel their energy to every day inspire and create and thrive.

At about five forty-five in the morning, the Mourning Dove which resides in the aspens at the south end of the lodges begins to call the sun up. This is a process which will take a few hours, but in the meantime, stars fade in our modest patch of open sky, as a grey and then a rose and then blue brightens to meet the sagebrush slopes. The mercury climbs at the weather station across the dining lodge, awaiting the huddled group of student meteorologists who will soon gather around it to forecast their day in the field. A mule deer lingers on the campus outskirts, glancing back at the sleeping buildings in preparation for the first flicker of light bulbs that will signal the time it will take leave of this place until the dusk again comes to the canyon.The first sounds of footsteps soon echo from the lodge floors, dampened by wooden walls that just halt them from reverberating and shaking all the way down the canyon. Pipes squeak open as showers are turned on, and little voices are heard murmuring good mornings. As kitchen staff soon has the ovens heating and the Hobart dishwasher humming, and a first car docks among the rows of painted lines in the upper parking lot. A raven arrives at its roof-top perch, clearing its throat hello. The sun appears, first as a glimmer, then a streaming reflection, soon a blinding, spinning orb of light that brings the canyon to color.And with that, things are underway. Kids emerge, laughing and bustling and jumping in play. Staff stride around campus with binoculars, field guides and snacks in hand; a stuffed animal occasional catches a ride on their pack’s back straps. Field groups eat, clean, fill water bottles, and have soon departed for their days of adventure. Students from the Journeys School fill the driveway on their morning trek to the north end of campus, and the mailman makes his visit to the big campus box in the front circle. Bikes, cars, and delivery trucks come and go. Recess begins at Journeys and students fill the yard, building forts, bouncing balls, swinging their swings higher and higher until they appear to be flying on into the sky. A red fox trots through the driveway, largely unnoticed as she weaves between obstacles in the periphery, pointing her toes regally and smiling between the large deer mouse she holds in her teeth as she returns to her kits and den.Around three, Journeys kids filter back down the driveway and leave the canyon to the South. At four, white vans and minibuses from Field Ed make their rounds through the traffic circle, releasing kids animated with war stories, “No, it was at least eight miles! Ten miles! Probably twenty!” “It was far away but I’m pretty sure it was a wolf. There could have been a pack of wolves. I hear wolves like to hang out with grizzly bears. And wolverines.” The raven watches from above and licks its lips as hungry kids wander towards the dining lodge, then back out, then to their evening programs. Night hikers embark on their expeditions to Vogel’s Hill, switch-backing up the canyon’s eastern wall. Their imitations of coyote cries echo downwards as a darker sky and a cooler wind presses in.By nine, kids are back in their dorms. They collapse back in to bed, and the last of the staff says good night in red tail lights that flicker around the driveway’s last bend. The red fox darts around the corner of the dining hall, heading for her evening hunt. The ravens have left for tonight. The big dipper stands straight above, reflecting off our metal roofs. I lay in bed, watching the moon rise to the east and grow in full, shining through the stars.To think of all that has happened in this day, from sunrise to moonrise. One student threw his first snowball at Bradley-Taggart. One learned about the tracks and sign of moose in the Gros Ventre riverbed. One met a peer who will stay her friend for years to come. One pushed himself farther than he thought was possible, and found himself on top of a butte looking at the Grand in all its grandeur as a reward. Many, I will bet, gained some stories which they will tell for the rest of their lives.But for now, time passes minute by minute in the canyon. We tend to speed ahead, in the hustle and bustle of these days that brim with excitement for what is to come. Sometimes it is nice to watch the frost grow on the new green leaf of a spring beauty, crystal by crystal. By ten, the elk is back on the canyon wall. She glances down at sleeping heads and returns to the forbs that sprouted up that day among the sage.

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