Dual Memories

By -

Greetings from high above the smoky western United States, where I am returning from my brief family vacation to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Everything about this highly-accelerated vacation went smoothly, from the restaurants to the Snake River rafting to the multiple moose explorations as well as hikes and numerous overlooks. We took hundreds of pictures to help preserve the memories.


As I head back to the world of Fed announcements and infinite QE, I wanted to share a couple of unrelated impressions from this trip while they are still fresh in my mind. They are thematically unrelated, but to be honest, the WiFi on this plane doesn’t work, so I’m simply texting a raw text document to give me something to do and also generate some badly-needed content for Slope, which has been getting scant attention from me for the past four days.


The first item has to do with a mama moose and her calf. I had never seen a moose before, but I made it my mission to find one for the simple reason my wife wished it. I’m not the brightest bulb, but I’m smart enough to do whatever she says. Indeed, a month ago when I put this trip together, it wasn’t because someone said “I want to go to Jackson Hole”. Instead, it was because my wife said, “I want to see moose.” So that was my task.


Now, this isn’t Disneyworld. You don’t just show up at the park and have a bunch of moose waiting for you. You have to find them wherever they may be hiding, and it isn’t easy. Plenty of people visit and never see them at all. But I knew two things from my research that would improve our chances: one, to get up exceptionally early, since they like to be out just before sunrise, and two, go to wet, marshy areas, where there is the kind of vegetation they like to chomp.
Our first attempt was along a length of road called, appropriately, the Moose-Wilson Road. We drove quite a few miles along the marsh, scanning constantly, but all we managed to find was an egret. It was discouraging, because this seemed like prime moose country. I saw a ranger and asked her for any tips, and she directed me to a different stream in the area, so we went that direction.


We drove down that way and, at a spot where the road was quite close to the water, we saw a baby moose! We dashed out of our car, binoculars and cameras in hand, and headed closer, and then we saw a much larger object, which was the baby’s mother. Double-moose!


Although moose can be deadly when provoked, the both of them were gently munching leaves, and glanced at us occasionally without any apparent concern. We were at a discrete distance and making very little noise, and we got plenty of good photographs. I’m pleased to say that we tried this same thing a couple of other times, and in each instance, we managed to find the same mama and calf, so we got acquainted with them pretty well. We felt quite fortunate.


I wanted to learn more about these creatures, so I did, and there was one particular fact which was kind of sad in a way: when the calf turns about 18 months old, the mother moose chases it away so that it is alone. Many questions leaped to mind:

  • How did this habit evolve?
  • Isn’t it terribly sad for the moose mama to abandon her offspring? I’m sure it’s not, but I’m a sentimental character, so it seemed so cruel.
  • And what about the poor youngster and his sense of rejection? The damage to his or her moose psyche must be profound.

Of course, I’m sure this is all quite necessary in the moose kingdom. If the kid never left his mother’s side, dating and mating would get kind of awkward. I’m sure the parents of children in their 20s and 30s who are still hanging around the house would see the wisdom of chasing the kid away. In fact, I saw there’s a new reality television show appearing called 40 Year Old Property Virgin, which appears to be about “kids” in their middle ages who still haven’t left the nest!
OK, so that’s the moose story. Now a bit about my raft adventure.


I hired a boat to take my family down the Snake River on a nature tour. It was a good-sized raft that could fit eight people, but it was the four of us, plus the guide, named Gavin. He was a fellow his in mid-20s and was the kind of healthy, fit, bro-dude kind of guy you would expect to be a guide on these boats: that is, friendly, personable, knowledgeable, and very healthy due to the absolutely constant upper body workout he got from those two huge oars.


As we were making our way down the Snake at a nice rapid clip, he asked where we had been eating. I named some of the places, and he hadn’t heard of any of them, even though Jackson is quite small and he lived there. He suggested he hadn’t been to any of them since they were out of his price range.
He also mentioned off-handedly that Teton County had the biggest wealth disparity in the entire country. On the one hand were the billionaires who flew in by their private jets, went to their $25 million chalets, and lived the good life, and on the other hand, there were guys like Gavin who were living out of their cars, saving whatever money they could, and working their butts off every day.


As we were having this conversation ,he pointed out we were approaching “billionaire’s row”, which were a series of enormous houses, far apart from one another, on various prime pieces of real estate. That house was Harrison Ford’s. That house over there was Michael Eisner’s. And so on. The term “trickle down economics” came to mind, as I imagined Michael Eisner standing on the side of his estate as we passed 30 foot below on the river while he took a piss on us.
Gavin wasn’t whining or bitching. It was really more of an observation on his part (and, I suspect, a ploy to goose up the tip I gave him at the end of the journey, which was pretty effective). Still, having mentioned the recent Bloomberg article about the irony of the “we’re doing it for the common man” Federal Reserve holding their annual junket at Jackson Hole, the site of this massive wealth gap, it was interesting to experience first-hand precisely the kind of chasm they were talking about.