art by Fred W. Jacquot
|A quote from the book: The Absaroka Mountains are, by land area, the largest range in Wyoming. Few Wyoming citizens could tell you this. As a range it lacks the spectacular peaks of the more famous Tetons. For vacationers, it is not nearly as popular as the Big Horns. One can count its lakes on two hands. This is an embarrassment when compared to the Wind River Range to its south. In the 'Winds' there is a lake over every hill, some ten thousand in all. But the Absarokas have their own special, rugged beauty and are probably host to as many wild animals as all the other Wyoming ranges combined. And they are rugged! Orrin and Lorraine Bonney, in their definitive book on the mountains of Wyoming, call the Absaroka Mountains the most rugged topographical area in the United States.|
|I wrote the first chapter for the book over 30 years ago. Over the next 25
years I completed four more chapters; that gave me five. It was then that
I sat down and began to flesh the book out by writing each chapter in the order that it would
appear to the reader, plugging in my completed chapters along the way. This year of 'fleshing out'
produced over forty short chapters. I also did pen and ink illustrations for some of the stories.
Some chapters took a lot longer to write than others because one of the characters is a composer,
and I wrote the music he composes in the order that it appears in the book. Yes, the songs
depicted are real songs.
I had already decided on the way I wanted to present the stories. Some 35 years ago I took off the three months of summer to backpack in the Absarokas. It was while I was backpacking that I first read James Harriot's books about his veternarian adventures in Yorkshire. The writing was excellent and I admired the way he was able to place somewhat disconnected stories into his books that gave the reader a clear idea of what it was like to have done what Harriot did, when he did it. I also realized that even with this kind of organization, character development did occur. This was the kind of vehicle I needed to use to fit my stories into a body of work that accomplished the same thing.
This book tells what it was like to come of age, to live young adulthood in a very unique setting and time. There simply is no other book like it. If you survey novels of the West, you will find few books that have a setting of Yellowstone, or the surrounding areas. This is odd. For Yellowstone is, and always has been, a popular tourist destination in the Summer. People love the place for its scenery, its wildlife, its geysers and pools, and the huge pristine Lake Yellowstone. So, the use of the Yellowstone area as a backdrop makes this book unusual.
photo by Fred W. Jacquot
The Sequence of the Stories
The stories appear in an order that may at first appear to be a bit random. There is no randomness to the sequence. The chapters are ordered according to my plan, and that plan has a goal. I wanted to give the reader the sense of how events occur to a staff of a camp during a summer. Certainly, a camp is not staffed by a single person; and events do not, and cannot, all happen to just one staffer. So, in Yellowstone Summer things happen to individuals, small groups, and sometimes to the whole staff together, just as they would in a 'real' camping season.
All of the Characters are based upon composites of people I have known. I have tried to combine qualities of real people to make these new ones. I think I have succeeded in this attempt. As I wrote the chapters I grew to be more and more fond of these characters. I even took the time to sketch out both pasts and futures for all of them. Now these characters are a part of me.
Smitty - The book is written from his viewpoint and in his words. Smitty is 18 years old, has just graduated from High School in Casper, and is considered to be a Middle Staffer in terms of seniority. He is beginning his fourth year on staff. He will be working directly under Cradeaux at the Pond, the senior-most Staffer, for whom he worked when he was 15. Since that season he has worked in two other programs in the camp, most recently under Madden, the Field Sports Director. If the Camp had a historian it would be Smitty. At the time that all of the events happened no one Staff Member could have known everything about them. Over time, Smitty has put the puzzle together and is now reporting on all of the events that occurred that one extraordinary Summer.
Cradeaux - This is a rare individual. He is extremely creative, a composer by nature. He is a physically powerful, and in his own way, a deeply moral human. He comes to this season as the oldest Staffer, at the age of 25. All of the rest of the Senior Staff look to him for guidance. He is the true leader of the Camp. But he comes to this particular season as damaged goods. Something terrible has happened to him. He is not himself and is struggling to recover his balance.
Madden - As Cradeaux is a natural musician and composer, Madden is a poet and a story teller with a powerful voice. He is Cradeaux's lyricist, a job he relishes. Madden is 22 this Summer, a Senior Staffer, and is the Field Sports Director. Madden is a student of Native American lore and legends. He has a wild streak in him to go with his bright red hair and full beard.
Pointer - He is from a prominent family in Wolf City, Wyoming. His father and uncles are all wealthy, cantankerous, innovative, fun loving people, with a passion for new things and new ideas. The family wants Pointer to join the family enterprises. But he will have none of it. He is 22 years old, freshly graduated from college, and is headed to medical school in the Fall. He is the Program Director for Camp, and nominally Cradeaux's boss. He has impressive orgainizational skills. Pointer has the gift to be able to tell anyone exactly what he or she wants to hear. A natural politician, Pointer has an idetic memory, a phenomenal head for math, and the mindset and skills of a Chief Financial Officer of a major corporation.
Sloan - This young man is 15, and away from home for the first time in his life. By sheer dumb luck he lands the plum position for a first year Staffer: he will be working at the pond with Smitty and Cradeaux. He is often the foil for both of his fellow 'Water Men'. He is just learning how Staff really functions. Fortunately for him, he is working with the best possible teachers.
Amy - She is gorgeous, a real American beauty, and Smitty is strongly attracted to her. But she is a challenge to date. Their relationship is rocky in the first half of the book, but that changes in the second half.
Smolinski - He is one of Smitty's two roommates at Camp. He too is 18 and a Middle Staffer, working this summer under Madden. He has a wild streak even worse than Madden has, and an uncannily accurate eye when throwing rocks or using a bow. He dates Kay Jackson from Cody, and they have a solid relationship.
McCormac - He is the other roommate of Smitty's at Camp. He too is 18 and a Middle Staffer, working this summer in the Nature area. He has a wild streak as bad as Smolinski's, which leads McCormac into difficulties.
Chelsea - She is the girlfriend of Sloan, and the younger first cousin of Amy.
Kathy Jackson - She is the younger sister of Kay Jackson and best friend of Chelsea.
Mrs. Jackson - Mother of Kay and Kathy Jackson, she is the mother figure for all Staffers, and welcomes them into her home.
William Pointer - President of Pointer Enterprises, father of the Camp's Program Director, and the author of two 'letters from home' to his son on Staff which become two of the chapters of this book.
The Social Setting
The Society of Young Women - Every one of the Staffers is from out of town, and would not normally know any of the young women of Cody. But as Cradeaux has pointed out, the young women of a town form their own society. To gain access to that society one must get the approval of a member in good standing. Staffers have long had that approval. Simply stating that you work at Camp would open an immediate place for you in their regard.
The Larger Society of Cody and the Big Horn Basin - One of the phenoma of being a young man working away from your home community is that you get introduced to the families who live in the area where you now live. This is, as it must be, a broadening experience. A young man learns from this that there are good people and characters everywhere, but mostly good people. The people of Cody and the Big Horn Basin are hard working folks who are generous to a fault. Like all Staffers I benefitted from living among them, even if only for a season or two.
A Slice of Americana
What could be more American than going to the Rodeo on the Fourth of July in Cody, Wyoming, or dancing the two step to Cradeaux's new medly using the tunes from Hank Williams Jambalaya, the 52nd Street Rag, and a rousing march by John Philip Sousa? What could be more American than strolling a volcanic beach on the shore of Lake Yellowstone, or visiting Old Faithful and Yellowstone Falls? What could be more inspiring than that first full view of the Grand Tetons? Wild Men on the North Fork: A Yellowstone Summer is a slice of experience only to be had in America.
A Major Edit of This Book
To get this book ready for a printed edition I looked seriously at the overall length of the book and realized that it was far too long in print form. I cut 6 chapters from the book. I reduced the Point size from 12 to 10. I cut a number of photos out. These efforts gave me a book that was some 180 pages shorter. Now I intend to write the prequil to Wild Men on the North Fork: A Yellowstone Summer, about what happened at camp the season before. More about that effort later.
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