Woog's World / Jackson, Wyoming -- It's no Westport
Published 7:27 am, Monday, August 26, 2013
You and I may not think that Westport, Conn., has a lot in common with Jackson, Wyo.
You and I are not, however, Andrew Cornish. The 1985 Staples High School graduate has now spent as much time out West as he did in Westport, where he starred as a soccer player. After Middlebury College he became a real estate appraiser. What better profession, then, to compare two such disparate places?
To start with, both Westport and Jackson have beaches. Compo, Cornish says -- "complete with sand, sea and sun" -- features warm summer water, sand that's both soft and not, and restrictions (lifeguards and Long Island) on straying too far from shore. Little has changed since the day the British landed.
Jackson's Wilson Beach, on the other hand, is a gravel bar that emerges in a slightly different location each year. (Exactly where depends on the force of the previous winter's snow melt.) Snake River water ranges from 50 to 70 degrees, while the rocks make Compo feel like the Caribbean. Nothing prevents napping rafters from a "free whitewater expedition" -- though the Palisades dam will stop the ride at the Idaho line. Cornish adds, "There are no jellyfish."
But if Jackson's beach doesn't measure up to Westport's, its mountains do. The Tetons rise from the valley floor -- which is still 6,000 feet above sea level -- to a peak of 13,775 feet. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort boasts a vertical drop of over 4,000 feet, making it one of North America's largest ski areas.
Connecticut mountains lack "steep and deeps," Cornish says, and you can't find much cold smoke powder. "Looking for a silver lining," though, he figures there is limited danger from avalanches or bears anywhere in his native state.
(Cornish is a bit young to remember, but back in the day there was a precipitous drop on Bayberry Lane -- complete with a target painted at the bottom, for cars daring to get air. It's not exactly black diamond-worthy, but still merits a mention here.)
Turning indoors, Cornish notes that Westport's "long and storied relationship with literature and the arts is difficult to compete with." Listing our town's artistic legacy would take more space than all of Cowboy Country. However, Cornish points with pride to his adopted town's National Museum of Wildlife Art. It houses the collection of iconic Western artist John Clymer, who lived in Teton Village from 1966 until his death in 1989.
"The feather must also be shared in the cap of Westport," Cornish notes, "as Clymer emigrated from Westport to Jackson from his studio on Riverside Avenue, when periodicals such as the Saturday Evening Post began moving away from hand-illustrated covers."
Cornish does not say -- so I will -- that a number of Westport artists, like Harold von Schmidt, were known for their Western illustrations. And von Schmidt's son Eric painted what is widely considered the greatest rendering of "Custer's Last Stand" anywhere. (And yes, I am aware that the Battle of Little Bighorn took place in Montana, not Wyoming. I'm just sayin'...)
Hungry? "Teton County has a `Black Duck,' " Cornish claims. "It's just not falling into a river." The Stagecoach Bar, in the unincorporated town of Wilson, hosts the Stagecoach band. They play every Sunday night (locals call it "going to church"). Bill Briggs is the banjo-playing leader. (One more thing Cornish may not know: Another musical Bill Briggs was the Westport-bred keyboardist for the Remains, a legendary band that included fellow Staples grad Barry Tashian. In 1966, the Remains opened for the Beatles on their final North American tour.)
Bob Dylan played backup mandolin with Stagecoach when he was in town for a wedding. On the other hand, the Duck was featured on the Food Network's "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives." I'm calling this one a standoff.
Politically, Westport and Jackson are surprisingly similar. Our town has a left-of-center reputation, while Connecticut as a whole is (after Utah) the top state for large donor individual contributions to Republican candidates.
Teton County was one of only two counties in Wyoming to favor Barack Obama. On the other hand, the state is 59 percent Republican, has not given its three electoral votes to a Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson, and -- well, two words: Dick Cheney.
On a personal note, I attended Cornish's wedding, at a beyond-beautiful Chapel of the Transfiguration in Grand Teton National Park. With a view behind the altar of soaring mountains -- and bees flitting among the flowers -- it could be the most awe-inspiring religious site on the continent.
No offense intended to Westport's Unitarian Church, whose in-the-woods location makes it an easy No. 2.
P.S.: Cornish's wedding reception was held at the Mangy Moose cafe-bar. Like the Stagecoach Bar, it's Jackson's answer to the Black Duck.
Jackson, Wyo. and Westport, Conn.: You won't go wrong either place.