PUBLISHER’S NOTE: A fresh look at Jackson Hole
JACKSON HOLE, WYO – As Jackson Hole awaits the annual in-migration of summer tourists – either with eager anticipation or with fear and loathing – I am pondering what it means to be a tourist. I recently returned from a visit to India to see my daughter who was on foreign exchange. The opportunity to extract myself from the day to day responsibilities of life at home and to immerse myself in another culture as an observer is quite mentally refreshing. Refreshing to just soak it all in, to collect experiences that will potentially deepen and expand who I am.
I was reading about a recent study involving mice in which German researchers have discovered that exploring new territory leads to an increase in neurons in the hippocampus leading to an improvement in intelligence and memory. Apparently those lumbering RVs clogging up town in the summer are being piloted by people who are getting smarter as they go. I’m gratified to think that as I did my own lumbering around India in my ridiculously out of place khaki shorts and baseball cap I was building brain cells – hopefully enough to replace the ones that were dying off because of the thick air pollution.
I have to say that India was a real eye-opener. The crowding and poverty, the air pollution and the ubiquitous carpet of trash was an assault on the senses, as was the incredibly funky psychedelic intricacy of every decaying inch of urban space. Shops and homes tightly packed together – they must have been new and clean once, but now with the appearance of ancient ruin. It’s a feast for the eyes. There is more to see in a five minute stroll in Mumbai than in all of the human built landscape of Teton County. Upon my return it seems like our off-season empty town is completely deserted like the opening scene of the “Andromeda Strain.” There is a refreshing yet eerie lack of people. The tidiness of our well-planned American town seems sterile, in a good way and in a bad way. I can now understand why I’ve always preferred to walk down Jackson’s alleys rather than it’s streets. Our alleys are unplanned, developing organically from utilitarian need. Layer upon layer of wires, pavement, sheds and back doors – stuff that’s fun to look at. The alleys have thus far escaped the meddling intervention of the design committees that are homogenizing our town into a place that lacks soulful visual stimulation.
Eventually the tourist needs to return home, because life is a balance between collecting experiences and being productive. It quickly gets tiresome and vapid to wonder around watching other people live their lives. The secret spiritual lesson of travel is not the endless pursuit of mystery in exotic locales. It’s to look at your own home with the fresh eyes of a tourist noticing how exceptionally cool everything actually is. Learning how to see the beauty and wonder in your everyday activities and environment.