I came to my vision of the perfect retirement three years ago during one of our frequent driving trips West. We had stopped in the tiny town of Cooke City, Wyo., at the northeast entrance of Yellowstone and my wife, as is her custom, headed for a small art gallery.
I dutifully followed, with no forewarning of the life-altering transformation that awaited.
Inside were two elderly gentlemen sipping coffee and happily engaging in light conversation.
“Whose paintings are these?’’ asked my wife, Margie.
“My wife’s,’’ said one of the men.
He looked so happy. So relaxed.
“So,’’ I said, “where is she now?’’
“Outside of town, painting,’’ the gentleman said.
And there it was. A retirement plan staring me in the face. Me sipping coffee and visiting with townspeople, discussing the latest sports or political news. My wife painting, earning extra cash.
Margie is currently an art specialist in the public school system, and a part-time painter. Most of her work adorns the walls of our home. But how to get her to take the next step, painting gallery-quality work?
That came in another visionary moment. During a previous trip to the Tetons to visit family, our stay coincided with the Driggs Digs Plein Air, a weeklong gathering of painters in Driggs, Idaho, that included a three-day seminar followed by outdoor painting.
So when Margie’s birthday came on the horizon last March, my choice for a gift was clear: a spot in the Driggs seminar, and several days of painting. Such gifts, of course, also work for Christmas.
On the night of her birthday dinner, with our kids present, she proclaimed it her best gift ever. My advice for partners everywhere: Give the gift of an activity trip, one that could benefit not only the recipient, but yourself. That’s just what happened on our trip to the Tetons for the annual painting week.
There is certainly no better landscape for such an endeavor than the Teton Range, rugged peaks that rise sharply, virtually sans foothills.
We stayed in Driggs, a quaint small town on the other side of the Tetons from the vacation mecca of Jackson Hole, Wyo. Driggs, Victor and Tetonia — the first three Idaho towns on the western side of Jackson Pass — are in the Teton Valley, where real people live and work.
And play. There is no shortage of activities in the Teton Valley, from hiking to rafting to fishing. One big advantage is that the valley is much quieter than the hustle and bustle of Jackson Hole. Visitors to the Teton Valley wanting to combine the trip with a visit to Yellowstone can easily do so — Old Faithful is about a two-hour drive north from Jackson Hole.
Any activity — either east or west of the Tetons — is set against those majestic mountains, which tower over the valley like skyscrapers on an urban landscape.
Our children have always loved the area. Ryan, our middle son, spent a college summer working as a counselor at Grand Targhee Resort just outside of Driggs. Ryan, his wife, Bridget, and their young son Connor made the trip with us, as did our daughter, Anna, and her husband, Sam.
Ryan and Bridget were somewhat limited in their activities, because 18-month-olds don’t do well hiking at 10,000 feet. But on several days they put Connor into a backpack and trekked local trails.
Anna and Sam were able to be more adventurous, wrapping up their stay with a three-day hike that took them from the west side of the Tetons to the east, traversing the top of the mountain range. Such trips should not be taken without proper preparation and safeguards, as they learned late one night when a grizzly roamed their remote campsite near the top of the range. Anna spent the entire night sitting in the middle of the tent, nervously clutching a can of bear spray, her husband said.
Margie and I had no such harrowing experiences. She took the seminar seriously, painting herself almost into near-exhaustion in her effort to improve her landscape technique.
And improve she did. I was extremely proud of her effort, and the quality of the paintings she produced.
And as she painted, I generally was nearby, sipping coffee, sometimes beer or wine, reading a book, strolling a path or just leaning back to enjoy those incredible views.
Sort of what I picture retirement will be like.