The Place-Based Bookshelf- Teewinot by Jack Turner

Teewinot and the Catheral Group; Photo Credit: Reid Bauer

Early on in Jack Turner’s Teewinot: Climbing and Contemplating the Teton Range, the author recounts the story of his first climbing lesson in the Tetons. He and a friend, both working in Pinedale for the summer, had driven up to the Tetons for the weekend and enrolled in an introductory climbing class with Exum guides. It was 1960. Turner, a young man at the time, found himself getting a lesson from Glenn Exum himself, already a legend in the climbing universe. As they hiked towards Cascade Canyon, Turner became frustrated with their progress: “I was directly behind Exum. He moved so slowly, and I was so eager, I wanted to pass. At the moment I was about to say, ‘Excuse me, sir, but…’ Exum turned and smiled. ‘This is your first lesson of the day. It’s called the guide’s pace.’” I’ve thought a lot about the guide’s pace since rereading this book. It’s an idea contrary to the way I normally navigate these mountains on my own, which is to say, as fast as I possibly can. The guide’s pace is a different approach; it’s the way we hike with groups of students at Teton Science Schools. For me, it’s simply the idea of going slowly enough to enjoy my surroundings and being willing to stop when my curiosity beckons. What’s that purple flower over there? Does that look like grizzly scat? Are the thimbleberries ripe yet? The guide’s pace is sometimes frustrating to visiting students and teachers (“When will we get to the lake?!?”), but it’s necessary if you want to appreciate the more elusive details of the landscape.

Thimbleberries, Photo Credit: Reid BauerTurner maintains the guide’s pace throughout this book as he accompanies the reader through a prototypical year of his life in the Tetons, the life of an Exum rock climbing guide. The book was published in 2001, after Turner had been guiding for several decades. While the author includes plenty of climbing anecdotes and lore, he also covers so many other facets of the Teton Range. He writes about the geologic origins of the mountains and the forces that shaped them. He notices natural happenings throughout the year, weaving a loose phenology into the narrative. He balances his accounts of guiding clients up the Grand Teton with stories of patrolling for poachers with rangers in the northern mountains. He explains place names and recounts their histories, dispelling some of my misconceptions along the way: “Teepe Pillar has nothing to do with Indian dwellings; it is named for Theodore Teepe, a climber who fell to his death in 1925.”In short, Turner stops to notice the details as he makes his way through the year. The account isn’t meant to be an exhaustive phenology of a year in the Tetons; Frank Craighead’s A Naturalist’s Guide to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks already has that niche locked down. Still, Teewinot is the most readable overview of the Tetons that I’ve come across, and I think it’s because of the guide’s pace. The book isn’t divided into sections by subject (here’s the Geology Chapter, here’s the Chapter on Birds, Here’s the Rock Climbing Chapter, etc.); instead, Turner includes all of these topics, and more, but all within the context of the larger story, the story of a guide’s year in the Tetons. Like the climbing guide slowly walking towards the crag, the story doesn’t lose its forward progress. Turner stops to point out the birds he sees, the people he encounters, and the stories that inform the landscape, but then the pace continues and the story moves onward. If you pick up a copy of Teewinot, I recommend keeping a good map at your elbow. Most of the stories are tightly tied to place, so you really need to have a reference handy if you want to get a solid sense of where the action is happening, even if you know the Tetons well. Take your time reading it, too. There’s a lot of information in here, and if you speed through too quickly, you might miss it. Read at the guide’s pace.

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