The ground was alive with crackles and snaps on the last day of the short, sweet season at Jenny Lake Lodge in Wyoming.
"It's the grasshoppers," a waiter explained, staring out toward the grand Teton wall. "This is their noisiest month."
In the hushed mountain world of Jackson Hole, the grasshoppers' crackle seemed raucous. But it would not last long. Nights were already growing cold by mid-September. Soon the lodge would be shuttered. The land would be girding for snow.
Over the winter, the snow piles up 10 feet and more on the roofs of the log cabins at Jenny Lake, and makes tunneling to work a way of life for administrators who stay on at Jackson Lake Lodge, 14 miles to the north.
The facilities at Grand Teton National Park have only a four-month season. Closing each autumn is an adventure.
The 60-foot-wide lobby windows at Jackson Lake Lodge must be boarded against rattling winds and January blizzards and temperatures of minus 25 degrees. Heat and electricity are turned off.
Water pipes are drained to prevent freezing. Carpets are rolled. Room furnishings are wrapped or stored.
Only in the executive offices--near the entrance to the main building--are amenities maintained: computers hum, coffeepots steam, sturdy racks are brought in for boots and parkas. Snowplows clear the way to the door. On dazzling days of blue skies and crisp snow, employees whoosh to work on cross-country skis.
The seasonal work force of 1,000 employees--including many retired people and college students--dwindles to about 30. There is the camaraderie of a wartime officers' bunker, although the only enemy is the cold.
Of the 385 guest rooms at Jackson Lake Lodge, just 42 are in the boxy main lodge built in the 1950s by Laurance Rockefeller, whose father launched dreams of a national park half a century ago after first seeing Jackson Hole. Most accommodations are in adjacent clusters of wooden units that have been handsomely refurbished in the last two seasons.
"Guests are usually disappointed when they first learn that they're not staying in the main lodge," said Ken Binder, hotel operations manager of the Grand Teton Lodge Co. "But that doesn't last long. Once they're settled in a cottage, they realize that the quiet of the woods is great . . . and that you never have a moose wander up on your porch in the main lodge. Rangers say that we have the best moose food in the area--our grasses and berries keep them coming back."
Two major improvements were impressive this season at Jackson Lake Lodge. The lake itself is higher than it has been in years because repairs to the dam are finished. Peninsulas are once again islands. A vast blue mirror sparkles all the way to the base of the Tetons.
And off the lobby--with its floor-to-ceiling mountain view--is a winsome new gathering place, the Blue Heron Lounge. Azure carpets and upholstery seem to pull the sky inside. Native American baskets and headdresses hang near bold Western paintings. The angular Blue Heron adds character to the flat profile of the lodge.
Five miles north of Jackson Lake Lodge is Colter Bay Village, the least expensive of the Grand Teton properties. A cheery, summer-camp mood prevails. Colter Bay, home of an extraordinary Indian Arts Museum, can accommodate more than 1,100 guests in log cabins, tent cabins and a recreational vehicle park surrounded by woods. It even has a smear of sand that passes for a beach.
Colter Bay has been spiffed up, too. A sleek new marina opened last May, when snow still lined the high-tech boat ramps that rise and fall with the lake. The marina office handles rentals of canoes, motorboats, powerboats and water skis, and offers information on guided fly-fishing and float trips on the Snake River.
But, as with the other park lodges, the tourist season is short. Boats must be hauled out before the freeze.
One of the last rites in closing the elegantly rustic--or rustically elegant--cabins of Jenny Lake is to install floor-to-ceiling posts to brace the roofs against the tremendous weight of winter snows.
By then the horses, which took guests on trail rides to lakes such as Bearpaw and String, have left to spend the winter on ranches near Riverton, Wyo. The waitpersons--as they choose to be called--are back in college or working at resorts in the Sun Belt. Marmots, the lazy comedians of this wild West animal kingdom, are hibernating.
Only the Tetons stand guard, 7,000 feet above the valley called Jackson Hole, their jagged peaks as whipped and frenzied as ocean waves in a gale, the shadowy blues of summer slowly turning to frothy white.
By Dec. 24, the scene will be Christmas-card-perfect at Jenny Lake, although no one will be there to light candles or decorate the trees or stare at the black sky for stars.
So another tradition has been born. Each year on Aug. 24, the Jenny staff hangs red ribbons and strings of popcorn on a Norfolk pine in the log dining room. They exchange gifts and sing carols.
And on that late summer night, the familiar music of Christmas is syncopated by a grasshopper chorus.
For Grand Teton lodging information, contact the Grand Teton Lodge Co., Grand Teton National Park, Box 240, Moran, Wyo. 83013, (800) 628-9988.