If ever we find ourselves in need of a reminder of our incredible privilege, all we need to do is reflect on the brief time we spent in Wyoming, at the end of the summer of 2018. In that little window of time, we were fortunate enough to avail ourselves of the generosity and incredibly accessible kindness of some truly wonderful people. From the Tetons in Jackson Hole to the Sherman Granite of Vedauwoo, we drifted down a river of new friends. It is our great honor to share those experiences with you.
When we left Yellowstone National Park, I was cranky. I don't know why, exactly. Perhaps it was a day spent in and out of the van, and no big hike for our little pal, Pelé, who is not allowed to hike in the national park? Maybe I ate something weird at the visitor center, and the bizarre cocktail of preservatives in the sandwich reacted with the cocktail of coffee and self-doubt with which I normally power my engine? Or, maybe I'm just cranky sometimes? Either way, I made some snappy little comment to Tiffany in the van, then realized instantly what I had just said was unnecessary, and apologized for having said it. Tiff's sweet understanding popped me straight out of my useless funk and landed me on exactly the right path to fully appreciate what was about to happen to us.
Our new friends in Bozeman, Steve and Mary Lou, gave us a list of folks to contact in Jackson Hole. At the top of that list were their friends, Lyle and Amy McReynolds in the town of Moose, WY.
Honestly, I'm not sure how to even begin to describe to you just what kind of experience we had there. We puled up to the McReynolds property, and assumed we had made some sort of mistake. The place was way too cool and beautiful to be where we were meant to be staying.
I pulled into the driveway, half expecting the owners to come out and shoo us away like...well, like two dirty hippies in a van, and their little dog, too! I could not have been more mistaken. The first person we saw was a tall, healthy man in what appeared to be his fifties, kindly gesturing to us in the universal language of parking-lot speak. We parked, and got out to greet our host, amazed by our good fortune.
Before any of the humans in this story were able to meet, the big beautiful black lab who had been bouncing around the van, needed to meet us. This excitable creature, who we would soon learn was named Whiskey, reached a crescendo of wildness when she heard our little pal Pelé begin to bark and growl at her. And bark and growl he did. More about that in a bit…
That healthy man who appeared to be in his fifties was Lyle McReynolds. Lyle is not, however, in his fifties. He is in his later sixties, and looks healthier than I do at 39. His hair looks like that of a guy who spends the majority of his time outdoors; sandy, and permanently tousled. His youthful appearance lives in his eyes though. As soon as we met, I knew we were with a kind person. Also, he was wearing shorts, tennis shoes, and a t-shirt, all of which had been working as hard as Lyle. In all of the time we spent with Lyle (over three days), we never saw him in anything other than shorts, and occasionally a light pullover. His allegiance to summer attire was earnestly upheld, even when the temperature dropped in the evenings!
We briefly chatted with Lyle, and another guy who is apparently the mayor of Jackson, WY – Pete Muldoon. Pete is well known for having been the mayor who removed Donald Trump's portrait from the town hall. I'm writing this now, only because I wanted to verify if we had, in fact, met the mayor. Lyle did not mention to us that the man we were speaking with was the mayor, and neither did Pete. It wasn't until a much later conversation when we found out Pete, in addition to being one of Lyle's tenants, was also the senior public official in the town of Jackson. Never at any point in our stay did anyone mention Pete's action of defiance, or his rise to brief fame as a result of that defiance. Pete was written up in the Washington Times, and had a split screen bit with Stephen Colbert on the Late Show.
After our brief chat with Lyle and Pete, we headed over to where Lyle and his wife Amy were staying for the season. If that sentence sounds strange, it is for good reason. At first blush, it may seem curious to imagine people living in various locations on their own property during certain seasons of the year. The McReynolds, however, have good reasons for their incredibly small-scale nomadic lifestyle. Fortunately for the McReynolds and their guests, they have ample space to make these moves.
Before I move on with the recounting of our experience, let me attempt to describe this property. McReynolds Blacktail Cabins, as the property is known to its paying clientele - http://www.mcreynoldsblacktailcabins.com– houses a couple of structures which can be used for short term rentals. Lyle, when called on the house phone, will sometimes answer, “Percy's Pool Hall and Daycare?” I'll explain that in a bit.
So, on this picturesque bit of acreage, sandwiched by the Tetons to the West (literally the Tetons...the whole range), the Blacktail Butte to the South, and miles of open range to the North and East. The Tetons are fully exposed, and make the other smaller mountains which encircle Jackson Hole, look like mere hills. Where the property intersects with the road, a long section of rough cut, but perfectly built buck-rail fence, does its best to keep any wondering bison from trampling the place to pieces.
This fence is not exactly meant to keep bison away completely. One evening, one of their daughters complained of hearing noises outside of her window. It was deep winter, and way too cold for a late night quest to solve the mystery. When an inspection was made in the early morning, a large bison was discovered, dead in the egress area for the basement window of the daughter's room. The poor bison, severely malnourished and confused, fell into an inescapable hole, and ended up freezing to death, starving and upside down, outside the bedroom of a young girl. Life is strange, but death can be stranger.
The large and open property, is divided at one point by a small but flowing, grass-lined irrigation ditch. At another point about twenty yards back it is crossed again by a large-creek bed which rages in spring, but was dry for our visit. Lyle has a system, whereby he can divert the ever-present water from the irrigation stream, to flow in the creek bed. The sound of this beautiful and meandering stream made an ideal soundtrack for peaceful sleep.
On the grounds, there are a number of structures spread about. The main house is a log cabin, originally built by cowboys in the 40's. Lyle's grandfather found the property, and in 1947, Lyle's mother purchased the land with savings. It’s been in his family ever since.
There are old metal farm buildings for storing feed, which are now filled with tools and decorations for functions. Lyle built another guest house on the property, and also completely modernized the log cabin to include a fully livable basement which spans the entire footprint of the home...I can only hope you understand just how difficult a task this is to accomplish. Lyle did it with the help of only two other people.
Of course, there is the wood shop and garage/studio, which Lyle converted into the “summer home”, where Lyle and Amy live all summer, while the other buildings are being rented. Behind this incredible shop, which is filled with great wood working machines and hand built boats, there are several tipis. These tipis were built using techniques which date back thousands of years. This technique was taught to Lyle by his old neighbors, the Gladys and Reginald Laubin family. The Laubin's were responsible for preserving a great deal of these culturally relevant, and wonderfully practical structures, and lived on his street for many years. In fact, the Laubin’s literally wrote the book on the tipi - LAUBIN’S BOOK - His daughters would sleep in those structures all summer, and would sometimes wait as long as the parents would allow before moving back into the log cabin.
When we arrived, Lyle and Amy's daughters were away, one at university, and the other on a foreign exchange program in Sweden. There was a teenager living in one of the tipis though. Juma, a foreign exchange student from Argentina, is living with them for the next several months. To come from a small town in Southern Argentina, to live in a tipi in Jackson Hole, WY sounds like a dream come true. Juma seemed to be having a blast. To be fair, he had only ben there for 4 days when we met him.
The crown jewel of the compound, while some would say it was the log cabin, for me, was Percy's Pool Hall and Daycare. Lyle took an old barn structure, and repurposed it to house a meat locker for processing elk, and lined the whole interior-north wall and outside wall of the meat locker with rock climbing holds. The West wall was covered by crates of records (mostly a collection of rock, soul and old americana) and a fantastic stereo system with a single turntable. The remaining walls were ringed with various seats and small tables. The center of the room was dominated by a gorgeous old leather pocket pool table.
The décor ranges from a few sparse elk antlers, to a couple of skis, some mardi gras beads, lots of photos, posters of funny sayings, pool-cues, and other ephemera. We did get to witness this fantastic room in full effect, but before I tell you about that, I'd like first finish telling you about our arrival.
As we walked with Lyle over to the studio/shop area where they were living, a woman who I thought may have been in her early forties appeared and was introduced to us as Amy, Lyle's wife. For the sake of clarity, I will say Amy is not in her early forties. For the sake of it not being any of your business, I won't tell you her actual age. Suffice it to say, she appears to have stopped aging at some point in her forties, in-spite of more than a couple years having passed since then.
Amy is a unique character as well. She is sarcastic when necessary, fun loving, and ready for business at all times. She is uniquely suited for management of just about any project, but particularly the arrangement of proper hospitality. She made us feel welcome, in a practical and utilitarian sense, as well as a more ethereal sort of sense; like when you show up at your grandparents, and even though you know there's gonna be some ground rules, the people enforcing the rules love you to pieces.
We found a rhythm with Lyle and Amy, right away. We got down to the business of eating within twenty minutes of our arrival, and brought what food and drink we had to offer to a very welcoming table..a table filled with leftovers! The only rule at the table; no leftovers of the leftovers. I am exactly the sort of person you want to have around when that rule is on-deck.
Before we sat down, we were introduced to the previously mentioned foreign exchange student, Juma. Juma is 16 years old, and is about as charming and sweet as a kid can be. His command of English was impressive, and he was quite at home greeting two total strangers who showed up with their little dog and appeared to be living in a big red van. Juma sat next to me at dinner. Although he was a bit quiet, it was not from shyness. He seemed to be paying close attention from a vantage point you can only reach when you just don't say much.
As we were eating, Pelé discovered the other dogs there were also fans of chasing after tennis balls. Lyle and Amy have two dogs. One I have introduced, Whiskey, the crazy black lab. The other is Sunshine, an elderly yellow lab, who suffers from traumas to her hind legs (infections, I think). Sunshine is not too keen on chasing balls any longer, although to hear Lyle and Amy tell it, she was once quite the fetcher. Sadly, we recognize which side of the rainbow she is traveling; we take great comfort in knowing her life has been, on balance, pretty fucking grand.
The only time I take issue with Pelé and his ball chasing, is when there are other dogs present. Sharing is not an option. He will growl, bark, and generally act like a little tyrant to any dog who tries to get near him when he has the ball. I'm not entirely sure how to stop him from acting this way, but I can't help but have a little sympathy for the guy. Chasing a ball, or stick, or a rock, for Pelé is either some sort of psychological pacifier which helps him deal with hard-earned anxiety from years of neglect and multiple visits to the pound, or it's just so damn fun to chase after a ball, he physically can't stop the fun on his own. Either way, he was a dick to Whiskey, and somewhat afraid to get too close to Sunshine.
Our first evening with them was fun, and spirited. Fortunately though, it was brief. We were all tired, and ready for a good night's sleep.
The following day, we took a short, but beautiful bike ride around the National park. With Pelé nestled into his little chariot, we took off from the McReynolds' place, and rode less than half a mile to the beginning of a bike path that reaches from there to Jackson, and connects with the park. We rode about ten miles into the park, had lunch by a beautiful river, then rode back, stoping briefly to and from for sandwiches on the way out, and for wine on the way back.
When we returned, there was no one around, so we jumped around on a large, semi-sunken trampoline for a while. After the 10 minute trampoline enjoyment maximum was reached, we took showers behind the van, and prepped some food we wanted to cook for dinner.
One of Lyle and Amy's two daughters had taken some shop classes, and clearly shared her father's interest in building things which are useful and creative. She asked her parents if she could build an A-frame to use as a study. Her parents agreed, and she did an amazing job
I won't go into every detail here, but I will tell you about the most outstanding feature. The whole West facing wall is clad in a dark-tinted corrugated perspex. The framing of the wall is bolted to the frame of the building with two large hinges. The entire wall swings out, and has some catches built-in, so you can prop open the large wall, allowing the sun and wind to do their bit to aid in your creative endeavor.
I'm not sure how much it did for my creative process, but I can say sitting in this space, of all the incredible spaces on the property, was my favorite. I ended up writing in there for many hours while we stayed at the McReynolds' place.
That evening we cooked out (my job was to handle the grill). We met some great characters. My personal favorite, was Lyle and Amy's friend, Toni. Toni has one of the most immediately likeable and approachable personalities I've ever encountered...and, she is beautiful. Beautiful in physicality, and in personality. I spent as much time as I could around her. She reminded me a great deal of our friend Sally in Petaluma.
We also met a family, the Wheelers. The Wheelers, Mike, Kelly, Maya and Issac, are a rare breed of family. These kids have visited over 26 countries, and the oldest is only 16! We ended up chating with the Wheelers quite a bit, and invited them to be on the podcast the following day. That episode wil be out soon!
After diner, we headed over to Percy's Pool Hall and Daycare, and had a ton of fun. One of the guests was an ace at the turntable, and ended up spinning records for hours. She was fantastic at it. It isn't easy to DJ with records, and is even more difficult when only one turntable is available. The temptation is to just put on a record, and let it play, pausing only to flip the record, or change it out after playing both sides.
If you are going for a “vibe” though, you kinda need to mix it up. Our DJ that evening got that, and made it work. She would put on a record and play one or two tracks from one side, then pull that record, and replace it with another one. She was selecting certain tracks, some danceable, some atmospheric, some classic, and some, you could tell, were just tunes she really liked, and didn't care if anyone else did.
Lyle showed Juma and some of the others there how to play pool, and I marveled at Lyle's technique. Not his pool technique, but his teaching method. For sure, Lyle is good at pool, but what impressed me more was how he made the person he was working with feel like what he was showing them was somehow their idea of how to play pool.
We spent three more days and two evening with the McReynolds, and I ended up recording two podcasts; one with the Wheelers, and one with Lyle. I enjoyed both of them, but I must say, speaking with Lyle, in his 4thgeneration family home, was an honor for me. I will not soon forget our conversation, and will forever cherish the time I spent with such a wise, kind and thoughtful individual.
We absolutely plan on seeing those folks again, somewhere down the road. We don't know when, or how, but we will find a way. Every time I picture Lyle's kind eyes, or Amy's sly smile, I am heartened to know they are out there, under the Tetons, being kind, treating people like family, and helping others create incredible memories of their own.
Last Christmas, Tiffany and I took our van on its first journey after completing the build-out of the interior. We decided to meet some friends in Joshua Tree. In the back of my mind, an idea for the podcast was beginning to take a form in my mind. While we were camping there, we met our camp neighbor, a guy called JD. After talking with JD, I was convinced we would have no trouble meeting fun and interesting people on our journey. We have stayed in touch with JD, and while we were visiting the McReynolds, JD reached out to us and invited us to come down to southern Wyoming where he was rock climbing. When we left the McReynolds, our next destination was clear, Vedauwoo, WY, home of some of the most unique rock climbing action in the world.
The drive through Wyoming was spectacular, ranging from steep mountain passes to expansive grass-lands, to wild, high-desert landscapes. When we arrived in Vedauwoo, we felt like we were in Joshua Tree, but with grass instead of Yuca.
The odd shapes of the large, ancient granite boulders are otherworldly. Large, swirling masses of stone, protrude high above, and great clumps of these bizarre shapes seem to meander around the whole of the medicine-bow range. We were told that the rocks around us are the oldest exposed granite on the planet...I have not yet verified that claim...and I don't really want to.
We arrived at a free campground to find our pal JD (who we only met once, and very briefly at that). JD was camped out with his dog, Lilly, and two other climbers, each with their own vehicles. One was a fairly young guy, with pierced ears and a blonde mustache, Matt. The other was a guy around our age (40's) with long brown hair and an incredibly deep voice, Devin. We cooked and ate, and smoked some fantastic pot. We built a small fire by our van, and we all gathered around to chat.
As it turned out, Devin is a professional rock climber, and is something of a legend in the sport. He and JD had only known each other for about a week or so. Devin normally climbs with his girlfriend, Pam, but she was ill, and was not there with us. Devin and Pam had been camped in the same spot for several months when we arrived, climbing incredibly difficult and challenging routes almost daily.
At one point in the evening, I brought out some flat cedar I purchased from a small business in Montana The business was on an indian reservation, and was mostly selling blankets, and cowboy boots. In a small corner of the store, there was a small display with a variety of herbs and plants meant for ceremonial purposes. We bought the flat-cedar, some lavender, and some other plants meant for burning.
After speaking with Devin for a while, I learned he was of the Crow india nation, and he held a close relationship with that culture. He told us about performing in dances, and other ceremonies. I asked him about the flat cedar, and if he though it would be appropriate to do anything with it around the fire. He told me about various techniques and uses for the plant, but said it would be perfectly OK to just do with it whatever I felt. His thinking was that the intention behind any ceremony is what was important. With that, I decided to pass the bag of cedar around, and asked everyone to take a moment before tossing their bit into the fire, to think of a reason to throw it in.
We all took some, and each of us made our little offerings. The net result, physically speaking, was an additional aroma, sweet and somewhat reminiscent of sage and christmas tree. Spiritually speaking, the results are likely varied. I can say that, in-spite of being skeptical of the supernatural, I am in awe of the effects of intention and ceremony when it comes to contemplating our place in this strange world.
As that smoke filled my nostrils, I thought of the many thousands of years people have been burning small fires around these rocks. I though of the countless ceremonies and rituals which had been performed there, and how people had expressed their own intentions, or feelings, or hopes, and prayers.
I pictured a continuous march of human beings coming and going; popping up from the field of consciousness like mushrooms from mycelium. The human form, merely a fruiting body, creating opportunities for other fruiting bodies, feeding the consciousness which moves our bones and gives us the capacity to believe in ceremonies, currencies, or state-lines.
Rich and fragrant, with an almost citrus-like quality, the flat cedar we pitched into the fire did it's work on our senses for a brief time. When I could no longer pick out the smell of the flat-cedar from the pine logs we had been burning, I opened my eyes to a beautiful scene. My loving wife to my right, between us, our strange little friend, Pelé. Across the fire, J.J., Devin, a guy named Matt, and a woman named, __, were spread out in a circle around the flames. Kind and curious faces were being lightly danced upon by firelight and shadow, teeth glistening with the reflection of flame.
Within a few minutes of our impromptu ceremony, we were telling stories and laughing at Devin's hilarious voice work, as he impersonated friends from around the world. The night was beautiful, and after hours of a cloudless, star-filled sky, we were surprised to be completely engulfed by a cloud. At nearly 10,000 feet of elevation, this was less extraordinary than it felt at the time. We said goodnight, and headed off to sleep, dreaming of ancient rocks and slightly less ancient humans, doing and saying stupid things underneath them.
The next morning, I lit up a cigar, we made coffee and breakfast, then set up a little outdoor recording studio for Devin and J.D. to chat with us. We talked for almost two hours before I hit the stop button. Our conversation is available here.
We followed Devin and J.D. Down a windy road, to a series of well worn trails through the crazy rock formations of Vedauwoo, and forests of oak and aspen, to a large rock pile of a hillside. We climbed up the steep and boulder-strewn hill to a large rock face which went up over 80 feet. The rock is known to climbers as the “Strawberry Patch”, and features a fissure which runs the length of the rock face, and goes from being as wide as an orange, to about the size of a basketball.
We watched J.D. And Devin as they suited up to climb. Devin cranked up pa tune, 'Johnny Be Good', by Men at Work. “80's music is the perfect climbing music!”, he told us. Once they were ready, we gave J.D. A hug and said our goodbyes. He was the first to go up, with Devin on belay. The climb looked incredibly difficult, with a nearly constant and humorous banter coming from Devin as he followed J.D.'s prompts and commands.
J.D. Made it to the top after about 20 minutes of hard climbing. Devin changed shoes while J.D. sorted-out an anchor at the top. We hugged Devin goodbye, and watched as he climbed up after J.D., cleaning up all of the climbing gear J.D. used to summit.
As we prepared to leave, J.D.'s dog, Lilly, was happily lounging on a very special blanket which was given to Devin as a gift from a hitchhiking old woman he once picked up and gave a silent ride. No one was worried about Lilly, and she certainly did not seemed worried about her owner and her friend Devin, as they disappeared over the large rock face.
We patted her, and laughed as she settled even deeper into her blanket, sighing ever so gently into the sturdy fabric. We made our way down the hill, and marveled at what a good climber Pelé is for being so small. His rare need for assistance is displayed with a hilarious reluctance and obstinate pacing at various points in the ascent and decent.
When we made it back to the van, the sky was a cloudless blue, the air was warm and carried the subtle smell of sage and juniper. We slowly drove across the bumpy road, and made our way to the interstate which would take us the few hours to Denver.
We were excited to see our friend Brett - a friend who had been the officiant at our wedding – a friend we had not seen since we were married, over 8 years ago. Nestled in this excitement was a tiny bit of sadness to be leaving such a beautiful place, and the recognition of just how incredibly easy it is for a small mountain of time to get between yourself and a treasured friend. We made some truly special friends on our journey so far, and we have quite a bit of journeying ahead of us.
We have no idea when, or if we will ever see any of our friends again. In between now and when we reunite with the people we meet on this journey, the very best we can do is to populate our dreams with their smiling faces, and to maintain contact with them via postcard, phone call and email.
The next time I burn sage, cedar, or incense in any type of ceremony, I promise to send up a little prayer -
We were once strangers
As every stranger
Is a friend to be
A stranger friend
I hope to be
Until we meet
Until we meet again