To make matters worse, Jett began to develop deep-seated reservations about the SHSU faculty. It was the most incestuous environment that he had ever encountered. Thirty-seven of the forty-three music faculty members had one or more degrees from SHSU. Even the president of the university was an SHSU graduate. This sort of nepotism was unheard of in the academic world, and it made for a Texas good ol’ boy system where everything was done with a nod and a wink. It was an unsettling environment, one wherein Jett would always be an outsider. Jett’s interactions with the core faculty were mostly limited to the occasional faculty outing, which generally meant a trip to the buffet at the Golden Corral.
Adding to Jett’s discontent was the fact that America was at war. Nineteen Saudi Arabians had ostensibly hijacked four airliners with box cutters and flown them into buildings. Logically, America attacked Afghanistan. As further punishment to the sponsors of the nineteen Saudi Arabian terrorists, George W. Bush was beating the drums of more war, this time with Iraq. No reasonably intelligent, thinking person could be anything but dismayed and taxed.
Life in Huntsville was abysmal. Finally, in late winter, Jett found a port on the horizon. He met a local girl, whom the faculty pianist referred to as a “hippie chick.” She was a welcome distraction from the turmoil of his daily life, and he genuinely liked her. She was fun, and it was important to be where there was fun. The fun, however, would come to an end in late April. They were at the beach in Galveston when the phone rang. It was his mother. His biological father had committed suicide.
The semester soon ended, and Jett returned to the Ozarks to put his father’s affairs in order. Shortly thereafter, the “hippie chick” called to announce that she and the faculty pianist were having an affair. With two horses and a mule in tow, he fled to Yellowstone as fast as his Ford turbo diesel would carry him. Most of the summer of 2003 was spent signing CDs at the Old Faithful Inn, with the occasional pack trip into the backcountry interspersed between signings. Meanwhile back in Texas, trouble was brewing. The faculty pianist had once again been denied tenure. Personal feelings aside, this was particularly disturbing because, like in Idaho, he had been the finest musician on the faculty. Just the previous winter, he had performed the thirty-two Beethoven piano sonatas in seven evenings of remarkable recitals. Not one SHSU tenured faculty member attended any of these recitals. There is nothing worse than a good example, and music professors who play concerts or produce recordings tend to reflect poorly on the other check-collectors on the faculty. The entire academic music world can be summed up by a light bulb joke: How many sopranos does it take to screw in a light bulb? Two. One to screw in the bulb, and one to kick the chair out from under her while she does it.
The defrocking of the faculty pianist had been announced very early in the summer, and Jett grappled with the idea of returning to Texas. One doesn’t lightly give up an academic career, as such a career is decades in the making. As he pondered his options, a new opportunity presented itself. One day, while walking across the lawn in Yellowstone’s headquarters, Mammoth Hot Springs, he encountered the Head of Concessions Management for the National Park Service. She greeted him and said, “You know, the outfitting permits are up for bid, and you’re the kind of person that we would like to have doing that.” Jett had discussed starting an outfitting business with her in the past, so the invitation was not without foundation. After several meetings to discuss the prospect, Jett resigned his position with SHSU and applied for an outfitting permit. He was awarded the permit the following March and founded Yellowstone Wilderness Outfitters.
He turned his back on the music world and returned to one of the principal skills of his youth, horses. His parents were distraught and struggled to understand. They had finally come to grips with the eight years he had spent going to college, and they had grown attached to the idea that he was a university professor. The look on their faces the night he told them was one of sheer horror. The consternation in his father’s voice was indescribable as he muttered, “Well gawdamn, boy, you didn’t need to go to no college to give horseback rides.”