SUMMER OF FIFTY-SEVEN
Coming of Age in Wyoming's Shining Mountains
BILLY JIGGS & THE HIDDEN FALLS TRAIL
I awoke in the pre-dawn half-light, roused by the scurrying, thuds, rustles, muffled curses and suppressed laughter of young men in a barracks or bunkhouse: finding their gear, throwing water on their faces, ambivalent between the urge for more sleep, and the prospect of a good breakfast.
Descending the stairs, I found the latter in full swing, with the formidable Mrs. Green in complete charge. On the menu was just the usual light Continental breakfast fare: pancakes and syrup, fried eggs, bacon, toast, butter, three kinds of jam, watery orange juice, (cowboy) coffee, all in whatever sequence, quantity and repetition one desired. I introduced myself politely to Mrs. Green (whose middle name was undoubtedly Motherhen), knowing full well which side my bread was buttered on, raising my voice to make myself heard above the tumult of young (and not so young) voices debating the achievements, connubial and otherwise, of the weekend just past.
"Darlin'", she said, in a voice which cut through the competition, and which went well with her six feet of height and somewhere around one hundred eighty pounds, "it's nice to be able to welcome another one of you sweet boys to the mountains. Corey (for Corey Green was the name of the assistant superintendent who had hired me on yesterday) told me you looked like you needed a little fattening up, and that's where I come in. You eat up and run along quickly now and get signed in, and when you come back this evenin' we can have a nice chat and get to know each other." I wasn't sure whether Corey was son or spouse, Mrs. Green's aspect and energy being boundlessly ageless. I was already getting the drift that very little that was known to anyone on the permanent park staff was not known as well to everyone on the permanent park staff, and also that there were complicated woven threads of interconnected responsibility-and privilege-among them. "And when you grab your sack lunch from that bench by the window, take the sack on the left, it's got just a little extra in it."
I bolted my breakfast, taking little part in the discussions around me, grabbed the sack on the left as instructed, and ran across the yard and into the Central Administration office, just as Corey Green was settling behind his desk. Just like Saint Nick, he said not a word but went straight to his work, and in the next 30 minutes I filled out more brown and white forms attesting to everything from my vital statistics, my work and life history, my loyalty to the Republic, and then some, than I would have ever imagined possible.
Baptised via a set of thumb prints, I evidently made the grade, for Corey Green then swore me in as an official United States National Park Service Temporary Summer Employee, GS Grade 4, Grand Teton National Park, Category: Manual Unskilled Labor. I was to be paid the princely sum (at least it seemed so to me) of two dollars and twenty cents an hour, for a forty hour week, no overtime. Tools and transportation in connection with my work would be provided me. I was to furnish my own clothing and other essentials. Of special note, I was to reside in the park bunkhouse, where three meals a day (breakfast, dinner, and a sack lunch) were to be provided me, no meals furnished on Sundays, and where my "found" included a bunk and weekly towel and linens. In exchange, thirty-five dollars per Federal biweekly pay period were to be extracted from my paycheck, in addition to Social Security. The thirty-five dollars represented almost precisely twenty percent of my pre-tax salary, and I found myself uncharitably wondering how this amount was distributed among Mrs. Green, perhaps the Greens, and the United States National Park Service.
"Mr. Green . . . "
"Son, you can either call me Corey, or Your Royal ASSistant Exalted Park Superintendent, whichever you prefer."
"Corey, you told me yesterday that I would be working under Mr. Billy Gripps. What does he look like, and where can I find him?"
"Its Jiggs, Billy Jiggs, with two g's and a j, Billy Jiggs from Driggs, and I suggest you don't never call him Mister. Don't worry, Son, Billy knows all about you, and you won't need to find him, he'll find you. Now get a move on and get outside. I have President Eisenhower's work to do behind this goddamn desk, and you don't want to be late for round-up."
I stepped into the early light of the yard, saw small groups of young men, all carrying brown paper lunch sacks, moving towards tools and trucks. I looked right, and then left, and then I felt a callused hand grip my right shoulder, turning me around with about the same easy leverage he would use to move a horse out of the way in a stall.
"Well, you must be Steve, so I must be Billy Jiggs, from Driggs. Welcome to the Tetons and to the crew building the best-by-damn laid-out and constructicated trail in the whole-fired park, or at least it had better be when we get her done. We been working on the Hidden Falls Trail since last summer, takes so much time we ought to call it the Hold Your Balls Trail, and a whole week of this season has gone by already and we ain't even got to the really hard part yet. Maybe some of you sprouts who survive working with me this summer will have to come back again next year and help me finish her. Glad to see you, Son. That guy from back East you're replacing got tired of not having a Dairy Queen handy on the trail, so he went home to Momma. I'm half horse and half alligator, and all lumberjack, and I'm here to help you, but I. Surely. Am. Not.Your. Mother. You remember that and we'll get along just fine."
How to describe a force so elemental, a substance so rock-solid? Billy Jiggs was about five feet nine and two hundred pounds, and I would guess he had about as low a body fat content as a twelve-year old rooster in a busy hen house. If you took a big, full-grown Ponderosa pine, and cut it off cleanly, leaving a stump five feet nine inches high, then you would have Billy Jiggs. Nothing bulged on his arms and legs, it was all just solid, compact, and dense. You had the feeling that the electrons in his constituent atoms didn't spin around much; they were just packed in together too tightly to move very far.
His face was round, but nothing hung down off the edges, despite his forty-five or more years. Grey eyes, grey thinning hair, sun and smile lines on his leathery, creased face. Strong, but not hairy, hands, blunt-edged fingers (a joint or two missing here and there from timber work in the woods up in Oregon), straight-across well-kept nails. Always in fresh blue work clothes that never seemed to wrinkle, because, though he could work like a demon, and lift like Mike Mulligan's Steam Shovel, I never saw him sweat. An old pipe in his mouth which was seldom lit, but the stem not chewed. Hard-worn work-boots, but they were better kept than any I have ever seen. Billy M. Jiggs (I think the M stood for mass).
"Pleased to meet you, Mr. Ji . . . I mean, Billy. What do you want me to do?"
"Just go over there with those boys picking up the tools, generator, rock drill, and dynamite, help 'em throw all that stuff in the truck, and climb in the back on top of them. You and I will have a little chance to talk when we get to Jenny Lake."
I threw in some shovels, axes, two-man cross-cuts, and pulaskis (a tool developed by forest firefighters, with a vertical narrow axe blade on one end of the head, and a horizontal mattock blade on the other. You could cut roots, branches, and small trees with the first, and scrape earth, dig trenches, and pry out stones with the second. The pulaski is the best tool ever developed for cutting trail or fighting fire in rocky forest), and I left the dynamite-hefting to other, more experienced, hands. You can bet I climbed pretty gingerly into the truck bed, being as careful where I set my nether parts as a cat walking on thumbtacks.
Here is what I learned about Billy Jiggs from the other guys on the crew, as we jounced and bounced in that open truck bed on the road to Jenny Lake that beautiful Wyoming morning.
He had been a combat infantry sergeant in the War, from Normandy onwards, and you could see immediately why men would follow him. He would never talk about the war, no matter how he was asked, just give his half-smile and say, "That was a long time ago."
He lived, where he was born, in the little hamlet of Driggs, Idaho, just on the other side of the mountains. It seemed like everybody in that town (and that was not a big number) was named either Jiggs, or Driggs, or occasionally Griggs. Billy had a small farm and a few head of cattle, and three big young sons, of whom he was lovingly proud, helping him work it. I got a sense of why he felt that way one day, later in the summer, when one of the Jiggs boys rode into our lunch break on his horse. The big Appaloosa looked like a Shetland pony under the size and weight of Jiggs the Younger. He had come a day-and-a-half up Teton Creek, over the passes, and down Cascade Canyon to our side of the range. He made the trip just to see his Dad (who hadn't been able to get home that previous week-end), to enjoy the country, and to deliver to Billy a fresh pie from home, which Billy promptly shared with the whole crew. The boy, who was about my age, stayed with us through lunch, speaking not much, but well, and always politely. He kissed his Dad, saddled up, and then rode back over the mountains.
Small-farming and ranching on the Idaho west side of the Tetons didn't have much cash attached to it, so each summer Billy worked as a crew supervisor for the park, much in demand because of his skills with tools and men, and his knowledge of the woods. He had spent several years as a 'jack in Oregon as a young man, and he had plenty of stories to tell about that, as opposed to World War Two. Many of his tales were scarcely believable, as tall as the timber, which I'm told grows pretty tall up there.
Not a man on that crew, nor any I met that summer, had a bad word to say about Billy Jiggs, but there were some things to watch out for.
"Don't pay any attention to it when he cusses you," said Rod, "no matter if he uses words you never heard before. Don't fret at all if he yells and hollers, and jumps up and down, which gives him great pleasure. But if his voice gets real soft, so soft you have trouble hearing it, almost like a whisper, then watch out, back off, and wish you were somewhere else, far away."
"Don't ever let Billy see you put a partner in danger by the way you swing a tool, and you'd better be ready to jump right up back to work when he blows the whistle after lunch," added Paul.
"Don't never let him hear you smart-mouth about the park, the mountains, or the United States of this America," interjected a third person, whose name I hadn't learned yet.
It was pretty simple. He actually didn't have much control over it. Everybody wanted to do their damndest to please Billy, not because of who he was, but because of what he was. My guess was that it had been the same way in Europe, when some of those young men died the hard way for him, and that he knew this, and that was why he didn't want to talk about it.
If you have never seen nor felt an early morning in June in the Rockies, from Montana to New Mexico, you had better run and try to before it's too late for you. It isn't the blue sky or the few puffs of pure white clouds, which may grow to be fearsome dark thunderheads late in the day. It isn't even an almost moist coolness that strokes your cheek, that may well be throat-tightening dusty hot dryness by noon. It's more some combination sensation we have no name for, that is part smell, part feel, and part seeing. It convinces you once and for all that this Earth is precious and beautiful. It was that way on the road to Jenny Lake that morning.
The thin strip of asphalt wove between the dark green lodgepole pines, which were beginning to shine in the early sunlight. At intervals you could glimpse a snowy peak, sometimes tunneled down a long straight stretch of road. Our truck was weaving, too, back and forth over the high crown of the narrow road. Billy was driving, and mostly using both hands to illustrate the points he was making to the two of our guys crammed into the cab with him. He steered by jamming his massive thighs up under the wheel. As we swung back and forth, with the intermittent pothole bumps for good measure, I could imagine those sticks of dynamite rolling back and forth under the tools we were sitting on in the truckbed.
The meadows were carpeted with flowers. To tell the truth, I can't remember well which varieties came into bloom at what point in the short growing and blooming season, but there were floods of blue flax, golden pea, mountain aster,western wallflowers, rabbit brush, shooting stars, evening stars, calypso, mariposa, and penstemons, penstemons, penstemons, coloring the course of the summer in the meadows, woods, and marshy lake margins. The roads were so thickly lined with Indian paintbrush, Wyoming's state flower, that even Custer would have been surprised. To the south of Jenny Lake, in the area called Lupine Meadows, there was an intricate Oriental carpet covering the ground so thickly you could hardly see the tall grass.
Morning was birdsong time: liquid chirps and riffs of thrushes, finches, kildeer, grosbeaks, juncos, and flickers, plus a score of others. Hoarse cracks of Whiskey Jacks and Steller's Jays. Cawing overhead of crows and the big wise magic ravens. Hummingbirds defending their territories, buzzing and squeaking in the red flowers. And more, more than you could identify.
Deer were common, especially at dawn and dusk. Porcupines were come upon, especially at night, lumbering through the brush or climbing the trees. In the marshy shallows of the smaller lakes, moose with enormous hat racks stood, water and green plants dripping from their great lumpy jaws. Bears, as we shall see, were not strangers. The coyotes all went to bed at dawn, but they were a source of lunatic music every night. And I've left out the cottontails and jackrabbits, and the chipmunks, and the many sorts of rodents, and, well, you get the idea. Because of the short lateral distances between great differences of elevation and of dryness, you would move through half a dozen climatic and life mini-zones in a morning's walk, catching a glimpse of a sleek wet otter on a lakeside log at six am, and being chafed at by a rock pika on a dry treeless rockslide before eight.
Billy pulled the truck to a stop at the old boat landing on the near northeast shore of Jenny Lake. He jumped from the cab, came around to the side of the bed, and put his hands on his hips, chest out, chin up.
"Well, you worthless, hung-over, wrung-out, pussy-whipped, incompetent, three-legged, lazy, wet behind the ears sonsabitches, get outta that truck and move your ass and the gear down into the boat before I put that TNT where it will do the most good and where the sun never shines. Rod, you drive the boat to the trailhead across the lake; me and Steve here are going to take a nature walk around the longer way and have a little talk about the birds and bees. When you get to the other side, Ralph and Jerry, you carry the generator. Harry, hump the rock drill-(voice getting much softer) that's what you damn get for dropping it on Friday. Come back for the rest of the hand tools, but you can leave a good load for Steve and me to pick up as we come by after you. Leave the dynamite in the boat, we'll get it later when we need it. Be sure to cover it good with a tarp, case it rains this afternoon. And, goddam it, don't forget the gas can. Again. Everybody got it? Meet you where we left off on Friday. Now, get moving."
Nobody saluted, but everybody said, "Yes, sir, Billy." With dispatch, they piled it all, and themselves, into the open aluminum 24-footer at the wooden dock. Rod jerked the starter cord a few times, and they were gone in a cloud of smoke and a Hearty Hi-Yo Silver.
I felt like Little Red Riding Hood, about to go out for a morning stroll in the woods with you-know-who, but Billy just smiled at me.
"Those are pretty good boys, but they need a little encouragement to get their juices flowing on a Monday morning. 'Sides, they expect me to yell them up that way, would be disappointed if I didn't. But, goddam it, don't get any ideas that I'm easy. You don't want to find out otherwise the hard way. C'mon, let's beat 'em to the junction."
We strode out at a reasonable pace. Billy explained to me, very slowly and clearly, what we were about. "Think of beautiful Jenny Lake as an oval clock-face, north end at twelve o'clock. The Jenny Lake Lodge is up at twelve o'clock, along String Lake, and that old boat dock, where we just were, is nearby, say at one o'clock or so. The old Jenny Lake trail circumnavigates the lake along the water's edge, about seven miles worth. At nine o'clock, Cascade Canyon comes into the lake near Inspiration Point. We are going to need considerable Inspiration, but more Perspiration, to finish that goddam hairy bastard of a trail this summer. The new trail, the one we're building, runs from seven o'clock to nine, in a distance of about two miles. It is, or will be, much higher above the lake, somewhat parallel to the old trail, maybe one-fifty to two hundred feet up, and runs through forest and goddam rockface, which is why the dynamite and drill. The trail will come out, if we ever get the blessed thing finished, at Hidden Falls, so-called because you can't see the falls from the lake itself, as they are hidden behind a rocky knob at the canyon mouth. And, by the way, we have to go over the blasted knob, which blast is what we're going to do to it, because it is solid rock. So, Steve, we're now walking on the lower trail around the lake, and when we come to the junction with the new trail, near the Moose Ponds, we'll head on up it and meet the boys at the point of work, after picking up a load of tools at the junction. Got it?"
"Got it, Billy, sounds great."
"Great? Great, Hell. It is one mother bear flaming sonnavabitch that has got us five ways to Sunday, and every which way but loose, trying to get it done. Hauling all that gear up the steep and narrow, blasting every couple of feet, digging out the Ponderosa stumps and roots, getting to the other side of the lake twice each day, and suckling you sprouts, has driven me Grey, not Great. But we'll get her done, you can bet your sorry ass."
"I'm sorry, Billy, I just meant . . . "
"I know what you meant. And it is great. And don't never again say you're sorry to me."
Billy then commenced to ask me questions about who I was, where I came from, and what my experience was. He generally received my answers without comment, but when I told him I was at Harvard (a fact which I often went to lengths to conceal, or evade, that Wyoming summer), he exploded: "Jeeesus Christ on a Crutch. I wouldn't have guessed it and I'm sorry to hear it. We had one of those worthless bastards from that fairy farm out here a couple summers ago, and he didn't have the sense to pour piss out of his boot before he stuck his foot in it. Well, maybe you're different. We'll see. What kind of work have you done outside?"
"Well, I was a groundskeeper at a summer camp a couple of years back. Built and painted fence, general chores, picked corn for two hundred people twice a week, rolled tennis courts, lined ball fields, swept out the hall, threw around benches, stuff like that."
"Sonny, this ain't no summer camp, and there aren't any tennis courts in the mountains."
"Last year I worked construction down in Miami in the summer. We were building concrete pilings to drive for sea walls. Hot as blazes. Had a weekly schedule: lay out the cages in the long wooden forms on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. On Thursday, pour the concrete (as the junior guy, I got to carry the cement sacks one after another all day long to the edge of the cement mixer, which moved along the forms, and got further and further away from the shed as the long day progressed. The sacks weighed sixty pounds each, and I went home grey-dusted in all my cracks and crevices), On Friday, help the crane operator lift and align the 30-foot pilings in stacks (without getting your fingers squashed, or getting blown off the high stack by a crane-swung errant piling), and start all over again the next week. It was hot, and I loved it. Got two dollars an hour because I was white; the colored guys only got one seventy-five."
"Well, that sounds a little more like it. We'll see. Ever do any work with the axe?"
"Uh, let's see, a little while ago I was splitting wood down south of here." That was certainly the major misdirecting exaggeration of the year of 1957.
"Well, we'll see. Maybe we can teach you something. What do you want to do with your life?"
"I'm planning on becoming a doctor."
"Is that so. Well, you'll likely learn some things up here that they don't teach you in medical school. Maybe you can change your mind and become a timber bum. I bet they don't teach that at Hahvad."
Here are just some of the things I learned from Billy Jiggs over the succeeding weeks:
How to keep edged tools clean and sharp, and why.
How to use an axe and go home with all your, and your partners', toes attached to feet.
How to measure twice, so you only have to cut once.
How to use a two-man cross-cut saw to fell a big tree just where you want to drop it, without jerking your partner off his feet, and how to keep on your own feet if the bastard jerks you.
How to drill a hole in a crooked rock, straight, the first time.
How to make a big bang, have rocks fly up in the air, and laugh all the way home.
And, how to know that you can get it done, whatever it is, and whatever it takes.
These are lessons that have served me well, my whole life, timber bum or otherwise.
We moved up the new trail, me puffing along like a tool-carrying porcupine, and Billy whistling and looking around under twice my load. As we passed through clearings in the pines, the sun was warm on my face, and to our right you could see more and more of the glistening surface of Jenny Lake below. The morning chill and the little mist had risen from the water, and she was now clean, and deep, and endlessly bluegreen, like a giant emerald.
We came around a big boulder sheltering beneath an even bigger tree, and suddenly, though we couldn't see any movement, we heard the clang of shovels against rock up ahead. A few feet further on, we were in the midst of a half-dozen young men in motion, making the dirt fly, and tossing small rocks and stones downhill.
It is only because I soon learned the trick myself, that I am certain as certain can be that a moment earlier, until they heard us, or rather heard Billy, coming up the trail, they were all in full reclining position, faces stretched to the sun and sky, elbows cradled under their heads.
"Alright you motherless polecat whelps, I am glad to find you for once hard at work, unusual as that is. Now you see the marks we posted Friday for the next hundred yards, and for this morning we don't have any stumps or rocks to blast in that distance, so get at it, cut that section level and neat and steady on the rise, and get it done by noon or neither you nor I will eat Mrs. Green's salty sandwiches today. And no smokin' until break, which you have had plenty of already. You bastards can't fool Billy Jiggs from Driggs. Steve, just let me get these no-brain helpless ficker-wingered cockatoos started, so they don't wander off and fall in the lake, and then I'll show you, if you're capable of learning, what we're doing here."
Billy Jiggs had a hard time watching others work if he couldn't join in himself, and he and everyone fell to, with me trying to imitate their actions as best I could, while the sun rose higher and warmed our shoulders. Soon shirts were off, and those who had caps put them on.
As the pack of earth-eaters moved forward, Billy Jiggs absolutely astonished me, not for the first time, and certainly not for the last. In a resonant clear baritone that echoed off the hillside and lake, he began to sing, and the crew responded:
Hey, buddy, can't you LINE it?
Hey, buddy, can't you L-I-N-E it?
Hunh (with the shovels and pulaskis coming down hard)
Hey, buddy, can't you li-eye-eye-NIT?
(and all now together) Way-HAY over that hill.
I came to understand that Billy knew them all-Negro spirituals and prison work songs, old Wobbly (International Workers of the World) union songs from the great Northwest lumber camps, barroom and whorehouse dittys, Big Rock Candy Mountain hobo songs, train songs, and all the rest. And now I know them, too.
Sometimes he would sing the odd verse or two. Sometimes he would mix in verses from two or three songs at once. And sometimes he would regale us with all forty-eleven verses from three different versions of the same song, suitably scatalogically modified.
At lunch break, he could lean back against a tree, and softly, sadly, sing those old lonely Western ballads, the ones where the dying young cowpoke says he wants to be buried with his horse.
I ride an old Paint, and I lead an old Dan,
I'm off to Montana to throw the Houlihan.
Ride around, little dogies, ride around them slow,
The fiery and the snuffy are rarin' to go.
Their tails are all matted, their backs are all sore,
There's water in the coulee, there's feedin' in the draw.
Ride around, little dogies, ride around them slow,
The fiery and the snuffy are rarin' to go.
Old Bill Jones had a daughter and a son,
One went to Denver, the other went wrong.
His wife got killed in a barroom fight,
Still, that cowboy, he keeps singin' from morning to night:
Ride around, little dogies, ride around them slow,
The fiery and the snuffy are rarin' to go.
None of us on that crew ever talked about how we would sing with Billy, up there above Jenny Lake. It was our secret, all together.
We had another secret, too, one we didn't share with others, and of course would never mention to Billy: when he needed to consult the map (which was rarely), Billy would pull out and put on his wire-rimmed spectacles.
"Okay, Steve, here's the way she works, here's how you build trail in my Tetons.
It's harder on a steep hillside, like this one is, and where there is lots of rock so you can't dig back in deep for a level, but it works out all the same: what you gotta do, you just do it.
"Making the trail wide enough is easy, at least if you keep at it, and leveling it off within the trail edges is just work, sometimes you have to add dirt instead of taking it away, and sometimes you have to fill holes with rocks.
"But the two hardest things you gotta do, and not being in your hydramatic shift truck on Main Street with a surveyor's transit and a thermos of hot coffee makes them harder, are: to keep your line straight and your curves gentle and smooth, so some drunken cowboy doesn't fall all over his feet trying to stay on your trail, and to get your grade going uphill or down steady and not too steep or too shallow, so that same drunken cowboy doesn't fall off and break his fool neck. You never, ever, want to sacrifice an inch by going down when you want to go up, unless you absolutely have to, and vice versa, so you have to eyeball it ahead, plan how your cut will look, measure twice and cut once, and learn to get it just right. When you are cutting switchbacks, it makes the figuring even harder, but it is not rocket science. When you see a well-laid out and well-cut trail, it is a surely beautiful thing. Unfortunately, most of the greenhorn pansies from Boston and Harvard and such that are gonna walk this trail of ours in the next fifty years will never think to look down, unless they are tripping over their shoelaces. But you and I and the boys will know that it was done right.
"Them's the basics. Now I can show you later about cutting tree limbs so those same greenhorns don't poke their eyes out, or, more important, so that the horses don't get spooked, and how to lay water diversions with stones and logs diagonally across the trail so it won't wash out by next Spring, and such like that. And I can show you better than tell you about how to use which tool without giving somebody a short haircut, and that's about it."
And lucky it was for me, too, that on that first day of mine in the mountains we were working a relatively easy stretch of trail. It wasn't too thickly forested, so there weren't many big stumps to dig out or trees to take down. It wasn't bouldered, so we had no grunting, groaning, or dynamiting. It wasn't too steep a rock and shale face, like some of the almost-cliff along the route. All that good stuff was to come later. But that first day was mostly soil, with small stones, an occasional tree root, and lots of sunshine.
That gave me plenty of time to get comfortable with the tools and with my buddies on the crew. I grew to truly love the pulaski, which offered all the subtleties and variety of a fine violin, and required a virtuoso's skill, to which I vainly aspired, to know best how to use what part of it for a given task. The long-handled shovel was an old friend, but learning to skim a flat cut without blunting the edge on a rock was a new challenge. I was only mildly retarded in axe handling, and that day the trees were small, and the roots best left to the pulaski. We had no need that day for the two-man cross cut saw, that living devil from Hell, sent to earth to try men's souls, and to inspire them to new heights of profanity. And the big pneumatic rock drill and its generator, and the dynamite, remained mysteries still hidden behind the veil.
By the end of the day (I don't remember lunch, or what was in the extra-special sack) I was whipped, sunburned, sore-shouldered, low-lidded, and unsteady on my pins. I had painful blisters on my palms, but was glad I had chosen not to wear gloves (especially any that might be marked with the Harvard emblem). My hands would harden up, as would the rest of me.
Because he knew I was raw and tired, Billy graciously allowed me to carry the rock drill, all forty pounds of it, down the hill. You had to balance its four-foot length on your shoulder like a 30 caliber machine gun, and hold your other arm out for balance. Going back down at the end of the day, it was a matter of young male pride that we didn't use the trail (even though we had built it), but rather slipped, skidded, and slid as perpendicularly as possible down the loose rock and debris between us and the lake, whooping and hollering all the way. Skateboards hadn't been invented yet, but if we'd had them, we'd have used them. For me, all that came later; I didn't do much whooping and hollering that first day. Mostly I just tried to pick my way down, avoiding being sent ass over teakettle by the balanced (or unbalanced) rock drill, alternately praying and cursing under my breath, and fighting a distressing tendency of my eyelids to close. I didn't drop the drill, because I knew that if I did, Billy would have me carry it up the hill the following morning.
The ride back across Jenny Lake, the glory of the meadows in the lengthening shadows, the unupholstered jouncing truck back to park headquarters-I have little recollection of that first experience.
I slumped my way into the bunkhouse, intercepted in the dining room by Mrs.Green. Idly noting for the first time that her strawberry-blond hair was a wig, I made my excuses for not being really hungry for dinner ("because of the splendid lunch"). She seemed to be quite familiar with this first day syndrome, just saying, "It's alright, Honey, it will be better tomorrow."
I crept like a rheumatic monkey up the stairs, on all fours, and fell on my bunk fully clothed.
But just before my lights went out, I would swear that I caught, out of the corner of my eye, a flash of old Jedediah, cross-legged in his buckskins on that empty bunk, his long rifle across his lap, and his clay pipe in his mouth, smiling through the wreath of smoke. He cocked his head at me, and winked, as if to say, "Good boy, old son!"
It had been a Shinin' day in the mountains.