Every new place — assuming you want to know something about where you are — surrounds you with a large, strange inventory of living things: plants, trees, flowers, geological formations. Which means a new vocabulary to learn as names get paired with the natives slowly coming to your attention. I was pleased with myself this morning when, on a hike along south Jenny Lake, I recognized a flower from last year’s studies: sticky geraniums, pale-pink flowers with four slightly waxy-looking petals scored with a faint, darker pink line. But there are also red Indian paintbrushes and rust-red spotted coralroot, light blue harebells, dark blue duncecap larkspur, purple sage, white campion.
A few evenings ago we noticed for the first time (though they’ve clearly been here since before we arrived at our rental house) a family of Western wood peewees. Three fluffy youngsters huddled together on the branch of a long-dead tree trunk, maybe an aspen or a small conifer, in front of the house. The bird house the owners had attached was a tip-off, especially given the bits of dried grass spilling out of its entrance. The peewees were waiting for their parent to fly in with an insect to pop into one of their slender little beaks. I’ve seen them hopping around the roof since then, temporary residents, perhaps, but with more of a claim to this patch of grassland than we have. They share the neighborhood with slate-gray birds I haven’t yet identified and, just possibly, a Western bluebird.
It’s hard to look away from the Tetons themselves; the range extends its sublimely surprising peaks just outside the livingroom window here. But when you shift from the sublime to the small, you start filling in your environment, which is made up of a lot more than the mountains and the sage-filled expanse of Jackson Hole. What I hope to do is learn a little more of the language of this place so that maybe I can start to belong here, too.