Halcyon Days

Halcyon Days

In college, I was a river guide in Grand Teton National Park. I worked three summers guiding boats, and with the exception of a few months, I was the only woman on our crew.

It was an extremely physical job, and I learned a lot about a lot of things. I learned that hiding your tip money in tampon boxes was a good way to prevent theft. I learned that if you put a raw fish in an upward facing lighting sconce, the fish didn't smell, it cooked. I learned that people were incredibly sexist, and while drunken, entitled men were very much so, it hurt so much more from older women, women who never got the chance to choose to do anything other than marry and have kids.

What I also learned was, youth is magical.

Our company had a meal site along the bank of the Snake River. Twice a day we offered meal floats, lunch and dinner, and twice a day, a guide or two would be assigned to help the cook set up the site.

We had a full cab truck we drove around, and we'd bounce down the dirt road to the meal site, a little area with a pit toilet, grills, and picnic tables.

Since we were utterly irresponsible, despite the fact we were paid to pilot people safely down a river, we were not given bear mace to deal with any animals we might encounter. Well, maybe the cook was given some, but us guides, we were told there was an airhorn in the glove box of the truck.

In Grand Teton, there are a variety of animals which, should you provoke them, could injury/kill you. Grizzly bears, black bears, moose, and bison come to immediate mind.

Not that, as a teenager, I thought any of these things would affect me.

So one day, we were driving out of the meal site. I was in the truck with a few guides, including a guide nicknamed Baby Fat.

The senior guides had given Baby Fat his nickname as a way to get under his skin. At the time, the guide training program was loosely based off of some bygone guide's college rugby hazing rituals, and the training period was tough. I was dragged behind a lot of boats, screamed at until I cried, and I was always soaking wet and cold and tired and hungry.

Baby Fat was one of the guides trained at the same time as me, and as a way to do whatever the object of hazing is, the senior guides decided to make fun of his curves.

But, Baby Fat was the kind of guy who leaned into such behavior, and instead of letting it hurt him, he went around insisting that everyone refer to him as Mr. Fat. The senior guides, somewhat dismayed that they hadn't negatively affected him, in the end, did occasionally call him Mr. Fat, and to this day, Baby Fat is still in my phone as Baby Fat.

But Baby Fat was also pretty mischievous. He was always stirring up trouble. Once, outside of a bar, he tried to grab my hair, and I threw a drink on him. He rushed me, and we went down in a heap, breaking a stair railing in the process. Our guiding buddies pulled us a part, and other than having to apologize the next day for breaking the railing, neither one of us were remotely upset at the other. It was just expected that Baby Fat would win some and lose some, and he never really let the losses bum him out.

So, back to the meal site and truck. Baby Fat and the rest of us were leaving the site, going down the isolated dirt road that would lead back to the pavement. We turned around a corner, and lo and behold, there was an old bull bison taking a nap in the middle of the road.

We honked at it. We yelled at it, but it didn't even open an eye. Baby Fat, sitting in the front seat, got the idea that, This is the time for the airhorn. He opened the glovebox and decided, he was going to use it.

We all agreed, and he tooted the horn. The bison didn't move. Baby Fat determined the problem was that he was not close enough. He opened the door.

We told him he was making a dumb decision, but Baby Fat waved that off. Such things didn't bother him. We shrugged, there was no talking him out of stuff like this, and let him go.

We watched him creep up to the sleeping bison like Wile E. Coyote. The bison continued to snooze. Baby Fat reached the bison. He was standing right next to it, but it didn't seem to notice. Baby Fat turned to us, gave us that grin he always gave right before he was about to do something entirely controversial, and raised the airhorn to the bison's ear.

He pressed the button.

The horn was incredibly loud. The bison opened his eyes and swiveled his massive head at Baby Fat. Baby Fat levitated off the ground and, like the cartoon character he was, ran back to us. The bison watched him go, clearly annoyed.

Baby Fat made it back to the truck, his heart practically jumping out of his chest. The bison was now aware of us. He moved so his tail was swishing, something I later learned to be a bad sign. The driver honked. A few of us yelled. The driver began to ease the truck forward. The bison stood.

And, contrary to everything we probably deserved, the bison let out a snort, and wandered off of the roadbed. We scooted by, Baby Fat cheering loudest of all, and we went about our days like nothing had happened.

We were so dumb.

Youth is magical.