Once upon a time, not far from the Oxbow Bend of the Snake River and Massive Mount Moran, lived the oxymoronically monikered mountain man Richard “Beaver Dick” Leigh. Often visiting that same area today is a highly acclaimed nature photographer going by the name of Moose Peterson. Just how any of this relates to sorcery, or Yellowstone, or even the author for that matter, is anyone’s guess—anyone’s enigma really. That is, unless you’re one of the chosen few who believe that occult forces were in fact at work in me making a name for myself.
And unlike Beaver Dick, who redundantly took a wife, (a Shoshone slave-woman named Jenny), I’ve yet to marry. But like Moose, I’m a nature photographer, albeit a relatively obscure one. I am, however, accomplished enough to have had two small photo essays published, and so spend most of my summers using them to pick up women at promotional book-signing events.
“That’s the first Fanny I’ve ever signed,” I would unthinkingly think out loud—too loud, it would seem, for any dignified book-signing event.
And, “Yes,” I’d sometimes respond to a comment (about my bio), “I have been photographing longer than you’ve been alive.”
And, “No ma’am,” went another of my many pick-up lines, “I’m not related to Moose Peterson. But try to enjoy the book anyway.”
That one almost became my mantra. “N’ohhmmm, I’m not related to Moose Peterson…n’ohhmmm, I’m not related to Moose Peterson… n’ohmmmmmm…”
Then Fanny came back, which wasn’t totally unexpected. While previously dedicating one of the copies of my books to her, I’d sensed a definite vibe.
“I meant to ask you earlier,” she began in broken English, “are you… would you maybe… might you possibly be… related to Moose Peterson?”
“Uncle Moose!” I said, losing the mantra. “I haven’t seen him since we discussed the will. He’s pretty big in Japan, huh?”
“Very big—like moose.”
She then asked me if I’d give her some photography lessons. It was her first time in Yellowstone Park—first time in America really.
So after meeting the next morning at the designated trailhead, we set off walking, me with my 40 pounds of camera gear, her with her Fuji disposable.
And as we hiked I tried imparting to her, as would any good guide, some of the local history, including, but not limited to the Tetons; “Beaver Dick” Leigh; and Jenny, Beaver Dick’s “Geisha” wife—who, it should be noted, had been charged with carrying the family lodge poles from one location to another. And I can understand if the whole account was a little too much for Fanny to digest at the time. There was the language gap and all. But I still think the only reason she refused to carry my Italian-made tripod was due to an intense sense of nationalistic pride.
“That’s a Bogan,” I tried to correct her (with a bad Italian accent). But she insisted, “No, that bo-gus!”
She soon began to smell another rat—a “winterkill” field rat—combining with rotten egg smell, and so naturally looked in my direction. “It’s sulfur,” I explained. “It means we’re getting closer.”
“That Jenny person had a lake named after her,” Fanny then blurted out of the blue.
“I’ll see what I can do,” I replied as she grudgingly accepted a small fanny pack.
And I should mention here that it’s a widely held unwritten regional rule that any would-be discoverer may indeed name some of the smaller backcountry mud features, since they tend to disappear—sometimes overnight (along with their names)—only to spring up elsewhere just waiting to be rediscovered and renamed. I like to use an equally capricious pop culture for inspiration.
“What about this one?” I asked as we reached the first small basin.
“That just mud puddle.”
“No,” I explained. “It used to be Puddle O’ Mud. But I hereby re-christen it: Fanny Got Backpack.”
She wasn’t terribly impressed. But I knew, after having visited the area many times, that “Fanny Got Backpack” was, as of last week anyway, an active mud geyser, with intervals of about 30 minutes and reaching heights of almost eight feet. But I wanted to surprise my guest. So I set my camera up right there—intending to return—showing Fanny the rest of the basin, which included the following features:
Primus (and its “My Name is Mud” satellite mud pot),
Buffalo Field Spring,
Anachronistic Talent Pool, and
Harry Potter’s Crock Pot.
That last one reminded me of my camera setup back at Fanny Got Backpack, so I led its namesake back to it, carefully tiptoeing through the steam, the spider threads, and the bleached bison bones of the basin. It was even eerier than usual. And it all served to set a certain sorcerous mood. So when we got there, I made a big show of conjuring up apparitions—primarily Sulfurious, The Infernal God of Angry Mud Pots—using a nearby pitchstone phone. But before I could even punch in the final digit, and more importantly, before I could tell my companion to reach into her fanny pack and pull out the pair of protective eye glasses, (round lenses and all)—Fanny Got Backpack erupted, almost on cue.
Needless to say, Fanny then had a few choice names for me, mostly in Japanese, and during the rest of our wanderings refused to go near any of the mud features—not just the newly named Here’s Mud in Your Eye.
“I got one in English,” she finally said, erupting after a long dormant stage.
But I tried to ignore it all. Who knew what dark forces were at work churning within her? And I can only imagine the story told 100 years from now about how once upon a time, not far from the Oxbow Bend and massive Mount Moran, lived the oxymoronically monikered David “Beaver Peter” San, and his estranged friend Fanny. I just hope that, like all my many mud pots, the name is as fleeting as the fame.