by Kay Stewart
After 16 years of marriage you learn many lessons. But the ones on vacation are especially worth noting.
My husband and I have been given the opportunity of fulfilling a preaching assignment for a lovely little chapel named St. Timothy’s Memorial Chapel located in the abandoned mining town of Southern Cross, Montana. The chapel is perched on the edge of a beautiful mountainside with a gorgeous panoramic view of Georgetown Lake, the largest lake in the area. Breathtaking beauty. A vacation of our dreams. One for the bucket list. All he has to do is provide four Sundays of sermons and they provide us with a free cabin on the meadow down in the valley below, nestled between two mountain ranges. In the morning we hear melodies of little chirping birds, and every evening soft gentle breezes waft across our side porch as we watch sunset after sunset throw a veritable light-show of color as it criss-crosses the valley below. All we have to put up with is a modern-day schizophrenic auditory milieu–pristine quiet periodically interrupted by the highway noises from cars, trucks and RV’s. We have every reason to be grateful, and we are.
After two weeks of our four week almost-ideal vacation here in Montana, we decided the vacation could be expanded, enhanced–an improvement on perfection. “What we need is an adventure,” I said. This dynamic is better known as “the grass is always greener on the other side”. My husband didn’t really need an adventure, he was liking his Montana vacation just fine. But I was getting restless. I am seven years younger and think it is due to this age difference that I am being deprived of adventures to which I am entitled. It didn’t take long to convince him to break camp (cabin) in search of something else. I used the regret-reduction argument. It works every time. “When we get home, won’t we wish we had done more exploring of this part of the country?” Avoiding future regret is my argument of choice–it burns like a slow wick, providing a living breathing phantom of anxiety forecast into the future when you won’t be able to do anything about it. So within 24 hours we dismantled our “ideal” vacation in search of a relocation of our vacation spot. We chose a trip to Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.
We are experienced travelers and have always felt comfortable using Trip Advisor to book a motel reservation. With the correct box checked filtering “pet friendly” venues, we booked a motel for $179.00 a night plus fees and taxes. It seemed a bit high, but Jackson, Wyoming is a high ticket vacation destination. After all, that’s why we were going there. Our internet provider doesn’t have enough cell phone towers in the hills of Montana, so my husband did not get an immediate confirmation number and we got worried. Avoiding any problems, we called the motel to verify only to find out they were not pet friendly after all and we could not stay there if we had a dog. They directed us to another motel close to them that was assuredly pet friendly and we immediately called to book with them for two nights, sight unseen. They articulated right off that under no condition would we be allowed to leave our dog unattended in the motel room. “Fair enough” we thought, we can leave Barclay in the car, for short breaks, going to restaurants, leaving the windows open, we do it all the time when the weather is cool enough. Barclay loves to “go for a ride in the car”; he simply takes naps in the front seat where the Alpha Dog sits.
Five hours of driving later, we rolled into Jackson. We were thinking five hours wasn’t such a bad drive, since it was much less than the 19 hours it took us to drive to Montana from Minneapolis, but we were wrong. Five hours is a long day of driving any time you do it. Especially under a hot 95 degree sun. It’s July. The sun does that in Wyoming in July. This leads into another complication. It’s about our dear little dog. Barclay is a wonderful 14 pound, 2-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. His Cavalier breeding makes him adorable and affectionate, but Barclay has a psychological disorder—he is a “shadow chaser”. I prefer to call it by its more obvious name–Barclay is a “light chaser”. The disorder is not rare, it causes obsessive compulsive behavior in a dog, drawing him, like a magnet, to wherever and whenever there is a difference between light and its accompanying shadow. Barclay is a serious light chaser and intensely loves all light. He actually has no choice in the matter; it’s a compulsory lifestyle for him. When light happens, it immediately activates Barclay. He positions himself as close to the light as possible. Then he, well, just stares at it, or paws it, or licks it. When the light changes, as light often does, Barclay changes too — he moves on to his next favorite piece of it. He never goes looking for different light, better light. He is totally satisfied with the light that happens in his midst. Barclay plays with light like a young child plays with an imaginary friend, but one he will not outgrow. But, after five hours of driving with light careening off of everything metal or electronic, we are pretty much “lights out”.
We arrive at our destination in Jackson worn out and find that our $200 a night motel room would rent for about $80 in any other city but Jackson. The quality is just not there. The room is pitch dark when the heavy musty-smelling curtains are drawn which must occur at all times unless you want the 100’s of nearby tourists to look inside your motel room. But for a family with a light obsession, dark is better for us. As we listen to the roar from the room’s air conditioning unit, which can barely keep up with the afternoon heat, we decide there is nothing else we’d like to do than take a nap.
We read in our motel room the travel brochure provided us explaining Grand Teton National Park’s rules concerning pets. They must be on a leash at all times—we are used to that. But we read further to find that dogs are not allowed at all on any of the park’s trails or public attraction areas. That’s just great.
This being a spontaneous vacation get-away from our primary vacation, we had not realized we were choosing to spend it at Grand Teton National Park on the lead-up to the 4th of July holiday weekend. The city of Jackson gets 3-4 million tourists a year. We were spending the day driving around in our air conditioned car with our beloved dog in bumper to bumper traffic with a great portion of those 3-4 million tourists.
As the vacation wore on, we became grouchier and grouchier. The tourist attractions became mostly distractions because of the tourists. And although The Grand Tetons were magnificent, “when you’ve seen one mountain, you’ve seen ’em all”. We couldn’t hike the trails. Bumper to bumper traffic in 95 degree weather. We wanted to go home.
We chose to travel home through Yellowstone National Park. It made us sad watching the devastation to the forests from the 1988 forest fires. The forest was indeed “coming back”, but it just wasn’t there yet. We tried to stop and see “Old Faithful”, but gave up when we couldn’t find a parking spot. We couldn’t wait to get home so we kept driving.
In 72 hours, we drove 750 miles, spent $700, slept in a dungeon for two nights, and drove home through countless forested areas with dead trees and no parking spaces. Once back in our original vacation location, we discovered something uniquely wonderful. We saw the light of what had been in our midst the whole time–the natural beauty, rolling hills, fresh breezes on our side porch and chirping birds heard even as the highway sang its tune. This lesson learned is one we will keep for years to come.
- Kay Stewart, Chaska, Minnesota, July 4, 2015. Recently retired from 16 years with Hennepin County Medical Center’s Addiction Medicine Program, Kay is a licensed chemical dependency counselor with degrees in theology and social work. Her reflections on grief have appeared on her blog on Raw Grief.