Caretaker’s Log, Wednesday, April 2, 2014
I’m picked up from The Antler’s Inn by Peter (who Karen my contact at the ranch had described as “tall (6’4”??), lean, blonde, suntanned—hard to miss”) sometime after seven. I throw my things in the backseat of his truck and settle in the front for the hour and a half journey from Jackson to the trailhead. Our silence is punctuated by him pointing out the rivers and the mountain ranges, telling me about the natural gas and bad air quality of Pinedale, and of the details of running guest ranches. He’s nice, but there’s a reserve to him—not a northeastern abruptness and certainly not a southern hospitality affectation. His is a reserve matching the chill weather and the sparseness of the surroundings. So I’m surprised when he hugs me goodbye after handing me off to Greg and Dustin who are waiting at the trailhead to take me in to The Darwin by snowmachine.
“No, I never have,” I reply.
“Well, there’s not much to it when you’re a passenger,” he says. “Just hold on.”
And with nothing more than that we’re off. It’s easier than being a passenger on a motorcycle. I sit back, holding lightly to the handholds between efforts to pull my scarf up around my chin and over my nose. Despite my attempts, the wind numbs my lips and chin, my cheeks. Dustin, Karen’s son, rides off ahead of us, taking wide, sweeping curves to catch jumps and to gather speed while always staying near.
Trying to see everything at once, I readjust myself on the seat and think, I have the most amazing life.
Farther in we go. We pass white fields and whiter fields. Evergreens make curtains to the side. We pass another field when Greg reaches a hand to touch my knee then he points. “Moose,” he says. Two moose stare at us while we zip past. And I turn to watch them watch me. Just beyond them, three more moose lay sleepily in the snow, not minding our passing.
Thirty minutes, maybe forty-five minutes later, we top a rise and there below is The Darwin Ranch. It’ll be my home for the next two and a half months. It’s everything I imagined. Isolated, snow covered, circled by mountains. I sigh with contentment. I’m finally here.
Inside the lodge, Karen greets me with a hug. We’ve been communicating by email for the past couple months and I feel like a know her, at least a little. She stands close, pushing into my personal bubble as she takes me around the place to show me where things are, what I’m supposed to do. And then we launch right in to my first major chore. We equalize the hydro-electric system batteries. I’ll have to do it on my own next month and I’m glad she’s there to make sure I’m doing it correctly.
While we wait for the system to recharge, Greg snowmachines me up to the Kinky River dam. When spring hits and the snow melts, I’ll have to clean the debris from the screen so the dam doesn’t get taken out. We’ve covered so much ground and so much information, I try to record the location so I can find it again on my own, when I have to hike, snowshoe, or ski up to the point. Not for the first time, I wish I had perfect recall.
When we get back I make Greg give me verbal directions. After pointing it out (around that hill, behind those trees) he says, “Just follow the snowmachine tracks.” That’ll work. Until the next big snowfall.
At seven o’clock Karen and I record the weather, marking the precipitation accumulation and the temperatures. That’ll be one of my daily chores and I hope what she’s told me to do will still be clear tomorrow when I have to do it on my own.
While Karen starts dinner for Greg, their two daughters, and Dustin, I crunch through the hard packed snow to the cabin I’ll stay in for the night and start a fire. It’s the first fire I’ve ever started from scratch all on my own. With the diesel-dust they use as an accelerant I have no trouble and I soon have a blaze roaring. I’m immensely pleased with myself. Here’s to hoping I can do the same when I’m by myself.
Here’s to hoping.
I’m at The Darwin Ranch. Time will tell if I’m fit enough to survive.