How I got the name, "TETON"
It was the summer of 1995. After a full year of “butt in chair – computer on”, John Robbins recipe for writing a good book, Todd (my partner and co-author of the Healthy School Lunch Action Guide - HSPL) and I finished the year long journey of writing our book. HSLP was fresh from the press. A well deserved summer vacation was planned.
Wyoming was hosting the Rainbow Gathering that year and we were ready for a wild and eccentric adventure. We set out from Santa Cruz, first stop to be Salt Lake City to pick up Paul, a friend we had not seen since we met a few years back at the Ranch in OK. Paul was a Naturopathic medicine man from Australia who was cut like a magazine model, with beautiful blond hair falling to his shoulders. None of that really mattered though because when he spoke, he commanded an attentive ear. His knowledge and wisdom was delivered with as much grace and strength as was his walk when he glided across the Earth, his blond mane flowing with a whisper of wind from his gate.
Todd, my boyfriend and partner in work was also a stunning example of natural testosterone inspiration. His 6'4" frame and wavy black hair presented a dynamic energy that waned in comparison to his hearts expression. He was strong, passionate and cared deeply about all life on Earth. I must have done something wonderful in my life to have been gifted the experience of a summer adventure with these two amazing men.
After spending a night in Salt City, the three of us ventured our early the next morning for Wyoming. We were all geared up for the Rainbow gathering first and then a back packing trip to the Grand Tetons. By early evening we joined thousands of others at the Rainbow site, parking and preparing for the long hike into the forest where the gathering took place. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw how far I had to hike in with all my gear. There it was, an S shaped trail of gatherers hiking up a very large slope disappearing at the top as they descended into the valley where the gathering was taking place. For those of you who have never been to a rainbow gathering let me tell you a bit about how it works.
No cars are to enter the valley where the gathering is being held. There is a very large parking area on the plains below where some 20 to 30 thousand people will leave their cars. Everyone and every thing is packed in. As we drove into the parking area, we were greeted with the same words over and over, “Welcome Home”, they said. These words, the song of the Rainbow Tribe, resonated in your soul each time you heard them and each time you said them. The tone was set. We were all coming home.
This was my first Rainbow Gathering and my first back packing trip, you know, the kind where you have to carry a 50 lb. pack on your back. I was more than intimidated when I saw that huge hill. Todd and Paul were hurrying me as it was getting late. They wanted to set up camp before dark, but I could see it was not going to happen. As the sun set the trail became alive with flashlights and candles. Like a highway in the night you could see a long trail of lights traversing the hillside. “Welcome Home”, each gatherer said as we passed. I loved being welcomed over and over again and began to settle into myself and let go.
The sound of drums became louder and louder as we approached the top of the mountain in the dark. When we came out of the forest at the top of the knoll we looked down to see a huge light from the largest bon fire I had ever seen. The drumming was loud, passionate and calling us. There were hundreds of people around the fire to shield the view of the drummers and the fire itself. OMG, I whispered to myself. I was absorbed by the powerful vision and sounds, and wanted desperately to see what was happening. I tip-pee toed up as high as I could to see in, but my feet would just not stretch enough to see over those in front of me. I looked back and saw a mound of dirt about 20 feet back. With my pack still on my back I climbed to it’s top and peered into the center of the wildest awesome spectacle I had ever seen. There were at least 30-40 drummers surrounding the huge bon fire that must have stretched 30 feet in diameter. Women with little to nothing on their hips were dancing topless and wildly to the beat of the hypnotic drums. Their hair was loose and wild as the flames of the fire glistened on their on their shiny wet skin. Wooooowwww! I was awestruck as I felt this deep desire rise out of me shaping words that said, “Now that is what I want to do”.
Within a few days the “hippie” in me, denied for many years, came out in full bloom. We danced, played, told stories, slept under the moonlight, bathed in the streams, cooked outdoors, participated in numerous ceremonies and danced some more. When I danced to the beat of strong and passionate drummers around the main circle at night, I was devoured with tribal remembrance. Yes, Welcome Home.
After a week of blissful fun, it was time to pack out with the rest of the children, parents, brothers, sisters and elders who joined with us to celebrate our gift of life.
The three of us, Todd, Paul and me, rested for a couple of days at natural hot springs and then ventured our way to the Grand Teton National Park. With hiking permits and maps in hand we circled up to align for our journey. I expressed my concern of never having gone deep into high country such as this, where there are bears and other dangers, not to mention that I was carrying everything I could possibly need in life on my back. I was concerned that I might try to keep up with the guys, even though I never could. They were both over 6’3”, younger and stronger than I. Requesting that they be sensitive to my female needs, they promised to take good care of me.
We set out rather late, so my request was already not honored. We had to hurry to climb several thousand feet to get to our camp before dark – no time to rest – no time to meander. It was a full out hike with a 50lb pack on my back. I remember stopping up above the timberline, as my legs could not carry me even one more step. From high above I head Todd’s voice call down with a commanding plea, “Don’t sit down”. He knew if I did, I might not get up again. I finally made it to the top just as the last light of the day faded. We set up our tents, ate something dry and boring and went to sleep. Who could sleep when knowing a big grizzly might come and eat me. Oh, God, what have I done now?
Todd and I had been playing with different names for me. It seemed everyone was naming himself or herself something cool that embodied an aspect that they wanted to take on, or a deeper part of who they were. Often, Shaman or spiritual teachers would name their students. But, I had not been named yet since my studies of shamanism, and so we explored by calling me different names. I always loved rivers, so I tried on the name River for while, but it did not feel right. River Phoenix, the actor, had just recently passed in a very early death. I felt close to him as he was a supporter of our work at EarthSave and helped with the publication of our book. I had even called on him the day before to help me get up the hill. Who knows if he helped or not, but it felt good to call on him.
The next days, deep into the Grand Teton park, we walked through fields of wild flowers, and up over glaciers. Yes, I still had my pack on my back but each day it was getting lighter. There was something to be said about having everything you need on your back. I could go anywhere I wanted at any speed and I would not long for anything. Instead the beauty of the Teton’s, and the essence of being far away from life’s usual stimulants devoured me.
When we descended into one of the valleys on our 3rd day I was enthralled with the abundant plant and wildlife of what seemed like a million varieties. Surrounded by white peaked glaciers, hundreds of streams of water found their way to the valley floor. The white snow on the peaks was melting and gravity made it possible to give life to trees, flowers, and grasses that subsequently gave life to the animals and insects that lived there. As I walked through this maze of assorted life I could not help but think of the mountain peaks as the breasts of the planet. They reach high into the sky collecting moisture and holding it there until it is time to let it go and feed the birth of new life in spring. Like the mother of a newborn, the mountains release the milk of life just when it is needed.
On the eve of day four, I was getting tired of the guys. They would bicker about our resting place each night, one wanting to settle early and other willing to move on until dark for the perfect place. Of course, we were all getting just a little cranky and tired of each other. We finally settled at dusk on a large rock that thrust itself over a raging river. Again, it was almost dark. The peak of the Grand Mother Teton lay out before us seeming so close we could touch her. We were very high up and perfectly positioned to gaze upon her glory. The trek was worth the effort. We decided to spend the evening in silent meditation, and pack out separately the next morning. We would be going downhill and out of the park, so we felt it safe to be alone. I was so excited to get away from the guys and go at my own pace.
During dinner I fell asleep while eating, my head dropping down onto my plate. Todd lifted my head gently and said his only words that evening, “Susan, please eat”. I was just so sick of cornmeal and wanted nothing more than to sleep. With a few more bites I settled into my sleeping bag in between the guys. I was awaken by the light of a dawning day while the guys kept sleeping. Excited to go it alone, I quietly rolled up my bag, heaved my pack on my back and took off down the trail - alone. Ahhhhh.
After an hour or so, the sun bathed her warmth on me, and the trail. As I approached a wide place in the river I decided to bathe and change my clothes into something cooler. There were three moose that had the same idea. They frolicked and splashed fairly close to me in the sun sparkled water. Together we freshened for a new day. A sense of euphoric joy washed over me with every splash of water as I connected to its origin and the journey it took to get to me from the mountain.
With my shorts rolled up, a hankie around my neck, and my now light pack on my back, I stepped on the trail with a lightness of being. My gate reflected a “Zippety do da” kind of song. I felt strong and happy bopping down the trail with the Grand Mother Teton in full view ahead of me. Alone on the trail with a swift gate, suddenly, without any forethought whatsoever, I thrust my arm out toward her and called out loud with robust enthusiasm, “So, Grand Mother” “What shall I call myself?” A voice came back instantly that said, “Take my name”. My gate came to an abrupt and sudden halt. Surprised I looked around to see if anyone else had heard the words, but there was no one anywhere in sight. Slowly I began to walk again, my entire mood shifted in awe as I began to feel what had just happened.
That voice is still alive in me today. Who was it? Where did it come from? Was it I? Was it the mountain? Do mountains talk? I don’t know but I knew I was spoken to and it was there and then that I accepted the gift and took the name Teton.
Soon I arrived at park entrance and went inside to find out more about the Teton’s. What did the name mean? What was its origin I wondered? Here is what I found out:
The origin of the current name is controversial. The most common explanation is that "Grand Teton" means "large teat" in French, named by either French-Canadian or Iroquois members of an expedition led by Donald McKenzie of the North West Company. However, other historians disagree, and claim that the mountain was named after the Teton Sioux (Sue) tribe of Native Americans.[
I could relate to both. I had just experienced the mountains as the breasts of the planet so I related to the Mother energy to feed and nurture new life. I also knew that there was a day long ago, perhaps in another life that I wore feathers. Whatever, I knew I resonated deeply with the Native American teachings and philosophy of life. Like in mantras they say there is energy in the vibration of words with strength and power that far surpasses the intellectual definition. When I say “Teton”, when I say, “My name is Teton” I feel solid and aligned, and yet just a little shy. It is like I have become naked and am revealing the deepest part of myself. And yet, when I express the deepest part of myself is when I feel at home. So, as I took the name Teton I said to myself, "Welcome Home".