The Boomerang Effect: Jackson’s gravitational force difficult to escape

By on November 25, 2014

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – During the past three years I’ve had two going-away parties, both of which took place in the month of April.

In 2011, I had my friends and family gather for a fun evening at Thai Me Up. I had just performed in a sold-out sketch show I wrote called “Still Single” and was off to Chicago, ready to take the world by storm. In 2014, I had my friends and family gather for a fun evening at the Center for the Arts. I had just performed in a sold-out sketch show I wrote called “I Can Ski Forever” and was off to Iceland, ready to take the world by storm.

Sure enough, I am writing this article in my Milward Street apartment, the very same apartment that I moved out of just seven months ago. I just picked up my mail from my mom’s house, and am heading to the Twin Cinema tonight to catch a movie. In the short time I’ve been home, I’ve fallen back into my groove, and yet, come April, I can’t say I’ll be surprised if I am the guest of honor at another going-away party.

Who the hell knows? That’s the beauty of Jackson. No matter how many times you leave, it will always be here to welcome you back with open arms. As many people have discovered, it’s impossible to find a community as generous and culturally active as Jackson Hole. That being said, there’s a whole wide world out there, and it’s impossible to ignore that itch to explore it if you’re a local, or revisit it if you’re a transplant.

In exploring this issue, I spoke with a handful of individuals many of us can relate to, asking them all the same question: “Why do people leave Jackson, and why do they always seem to come back?”

112614feature.jordan.leadOne-Way Flight

Jordan Schreiber, a Jackson native, is moving to Palestine.

Having grown up in the valley, Schreiber has always been an active member of our community. As acting chair of the Teton County Democrats and former Center for the Arts development coordinator, she has managed to establish an incredible reputation even though she is still in her early 20s.

Schreiber’s main interest, however, lies in the politics of the Middle East and she has accepted a job with Hebron Rehabilitation Committee, where she will be working with human rights advocacy groups throughout the region. She has no plans to return to Jackson Hole, but understands that sometimes things don’t always work out the way you planned.

“I know so many people who have shaken the dust of this town off their boots to explore the world and have come back six months later,” Schreiber said. “Never say never.”

However, Schreiber is leaving for a reason. “[Jackson is] this really small community that people really appreciate, where you know your neighbors. I mean, you can get that in other small towns, but here you have all this food and culture — stuff you can’t find in other towns of the same size. … But ultimately, I can’t achieve my end goal here.”

112614feature.jesseandryanThe Native & the Pioneer

For some folks, Jackson is the goal.

It’s hard to find a more unique partnership than that between Jesse Ryan and Ryan Hittner of New Thought Media. Ryan, the company’s director of digital marketing, also is a Jackson native. His family homesteaded in Jackson during the early days, and he always knew that this was where he wanted to establish his career.

“When you grow up here in Jackson, you can feel somewhat secluded so I couldn’t wait to leave,” Ryan said. “And then when I left, I went to two very warm climates — California and Florida, and missed the skiing, missed the small-town lifestyle. I fell in love with the resources available to you in the cities, but I think when I graduated I knew that ultimately I wanted to end up here, and it was just a matter of figuring out how to make that happen.”

Ryan met his business partner while they were attending Full Sail University in Florida, and convinced him to come to Jackson.

“I had never been up here before and I was excited,” said Hittner, New Thought Media’s creative director. “It had this pioneer-type feel to it, leaving everything behind in the East and going West to start a business in a place I knew nothing about.”

Their ambition was to start an innovative marketing company that also produced its own content. To them, Jackson certainly offers its fair share of outdoor activities in a thriving community, but they hope Jackson becomes something even more. On top of seeing more startup companies, they would love to see the area work toward retaining its seasonal workforce.

“Seasonal work is hard. You make friends for 6 months and then you have to start from scratch again,” Hittner said. “If you want to have long-term friends, you have to branch out into the community a bit more and meet people who are well established.”

“I think that’s why people keep coming back,” Ryan said. “Identity plays a huge role. It’s not a large town, there’s not a whole lot of accommodation available for workers, but we all know people love to say, ‘I live here, I’m a local.’ They want to achieve that status because of how vibrant and close-knit this community is.”

112614feature.aliceThe Tenacious

Alice Bever is so anxious to become a permanent local that she’s currently giving Jackson a fourth try.

Her previous attempts were in 2007, 2008 and 2010, with her most recent return to Jackson in July. An active actress and writer, she also teaches English to people who speak Spanish, as well as theater and dance technique.

“I’ve done so many great creative collaborations here and have had excellent opportunities,” Bever said. “But I also feel sometimes limited by those opportunities. Not necessarily the cool things — there are a lot — but it’s just so hard to sustain a career in performing arts here.”

While she does have her occasional gripe with the price of housing and the abundance of temporary low-paying jobs, Bever said the support one receives here is the most important aspect of Jackson life.

“There’s this comfort in being connected to a community with great minds and big hearts,” she said. “People are generous with their time and their spirit, and it’s pretty cool to be around so many philanthropists.”

Even if this fourth try doesn’t work out, Bever won’t rule out a fifth. “Even if I have to leave again, I will always be connected to this community,” she said.

112614feature.tylerThe Determined

In August of this year, Tyler Babcock had a going-away party not unlike my own. He was moving away from Jackson to study acting at Rutgers University in New Jersey. However, after less than two months away from the valley, he packed up his things and came “home.”

“I told myself that if I didn’t try this other thing [pursuing acting], I would be content here for as long as I live, but I would always ask myself, ‘What if I had gone down that road, even a little ways?’ ” Babcock said. “Now that I have gone down that road, I’m satisfied. I know enough about that path that it’s not the path I want, or at least not that specific path.”

Originally from Utah, Babcock has held plenty of seasonal jobs, but is now confident that Jackson is where he wants to make his home. Forever.

“Life has twists and turns and I’m open to those changes, so if I ended up somewhere else there would be a reason for it, but ultimately this is where I want to be,” Babcock said. “I want to settle down and have a family here, buy a home, have a professional life. I’ve tried out other places, and I always end up wanting to be here.”

He thinks the reason why Jackson is so easy to come back to, other than its community, is the fact that jobs are plentiful: “Work elsewhere is life, it’s career stuff. But work here is how we stay here. Sometimes having multiple jobs is your only means of staying.”

Here … Until We’re Not

Everyone in Jackson has a story, and if I had the opportunity to interview everyone to hear about how they came to be here, many of those stories would mirror others. I’ve heard many of my friends refer to themselves as “aspiring locals,” while others say, “I need to get out of here.”

As I mentioned, I have no idea if Jackson is where I will be forever. After I returned from Iceland, I was repeatedly asked, “Are you back for good?”

For good.

It’s such a final, terrifying phrase for many of us.

There is a whole big world out there that many of us still feel the need to explore. With as many adventures as we’re able to take advantage of in Jackson, we still have a yearning to escape every once in a while. So it’s hard to truly nail down an answer to the question, “What makes us leave, and what makes us come back?”

The greatest thing about Jackson, perhaps the thing that makes it such a unique and ever-changing town, is that the locals constantly embrace adventure. Our friends and co-workers and community members stick around, at least until they leave.

About Andrew Munz

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