Yosemite

It is amazing how an everyday action can be transformed into a precious ritual simply by changing location.

Despite being in the company of more than 50 fellow lake dwellers, as I approached Mirror Lake, dwarfed beneath the rock face of Half Dome, I was alone. Damp with the proof of my exertions to Vernal Falls and the trek to the little creek that is Mirror Lake in the dry season, and in much need of refreshment, I let my hair out of its tie and proceeded to wash it in the gold-flecked waters of the Merced River, Yosemite’s own trickling fountain of youth. The water was bitterly cold, holding on to the coldest breath of winter, but nothing could have felt better on a hot day.

It has always been a dream of mine to visit this most-reveared of America’s National parks. I finally got my chance this past week on one of the last legs of my family’s North-Central tour of California for one of my very best friends, Elise Jones. Mom was laughing about how it often takes the presence of company to get one to explore the local treasures a place offers. Yosemite isn’t exactly “local” for us, but it is definitely worth any amount of travel time. Packed into the back of Mom’s car, loaded up with plenty of snacks, the walmart atlas, and my constant companion (a steaming cup of coffee), Mom, Julia, Elise, and I began the 4.5 hour trip south-east to Yosemite. Driving through central California (think the San Joaquin Valley) definitely leaves one wanting with regard to roadside beauty. There is a sort of ruggedness and brokeness to be appreciated, but most of the drive provides a windshield view of browning fields scorching under a hot sun. Luckily we found a decent oldies station to boogie to. Car dancing is an artform we are well practiced in.

Turning east towards the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range provides a more interesting backdrop to our excellent adventure. Decrepit little towns dot the highway, doning names that excite my imagination. Chinese Camp, French Camp, etc. How were these towns named? What’s the story? I am imaginative to a fault, so dreaming up tales of power, oppression, and tyranny provided me with a trivial occupation for a time.

Hours later we arrived at Mariposa, a perfect little mountain town, and our “base camp” for the trip. Comfort Inn was our host and it was perched on the side of a hill right above the main road, accessible only by side streets worthy of Berkeley, CA. Mom attempted to make us feel right at home with a lovely story about a family that was killed at a hotel near Yosemite by some crazy staff member. A grisly tale that doesn’t need to be repeated. What better way to start off a stay in a room that multiple people have keys to? Fearful thoughts combined with excitement to see the park kept our pit stop short, and within 20 minutes we were back on the road.

The drive to get to the gate was much more interesting. Windy roads, numerous roller coaster worthy hills, and makeshift bridges diverting us from massive rockslides were a reminder of nature’s power to reclaim itself and any given moment.

Driving into the valley is a mind warping experience. It’s like crossing over into another dimension where everthing is both old and new, menacing and welcoming, light and shadow, peace and excitement. The traditional postcard view looking past El Capitan into the valley, the monolith to the left, and Bridelveil Fall to the right, cannot be compared to any other sight on the planet and demands silence from all who are privelidged to lift his/her eyes to it. All I could hear was the pounding of my heart in my ears as I looked around trying to comprehend what I was seeing. It was as if my heart couldn’t stand being imprisoned by the walls of my imperfect body when a perfect dwelling place was so near.

Well maybe that’s a bit overdramatic, but the landscape calls for such flamboyant language.

We didn’t stay long in the park that first day, only until dark. But we took a nice walking tour of the valley floor and strolled up to the foot of Lower Yosemite Falls. All manner of human behavior was on display. Kids were running around excitedly, tourists were barking at each other in every language imaginable all trying to capture the falls’ beauty with their faces along side it. Some just sat quietly, out of the way, in silent wonder. These were the people I wondered about, and would have loved to talk to if there was no risk of interupting some kind of reverie, journey’s end, or healing process. That’s the thing about a place like this, no matter your story, the moment you gaze with wonder you become anything you want to be. I leaned against a stone footbridge to take it all in, sight, sound, smell, touch. In this one moment, I feel the stones scratching my palms and mist on my face. These feelings are secret, known only to the individual, but universal as they are known to all.

Everything here is so much more than it’s tangibility. I can touch the rocks, the grass, the water, but considering the history, those who came before me, the electric current beating through the earth and connecting within me, it is so much more than physical touch.

We took the long stretch back to our car, taking in the panoramas around us, a grand welcome presented to us through a perfect sunset, a perfect goodbye till the sun brought us back for more the next day.

The next morning brought us back to a world bursting at the seams with every kind of person. Peeking into the campsites was like looking through a window onto decades past. I saw every variety of hippie, lost soul, gypsy rock climbers creating a culture of their own. It’s a privlidge to see them emerge from their tents and greet each other like old friends, this community is unlike any other and is fascinating to behold. Closer to the lodge and closer to society as a whole lies those on the opposite end of the spectrum: the tourist. Elise and I began an exciting game of “Spot the European.” This was based entirely on fashion until we could get close enough to hear someone speak. One thing we all had in common though was our desire to experience Yosemite in a personal way. Like I’ve said before, you can see the personal nature of the park on each person’s face. Vernal Falls, it doesn’t seem too difficult….seem…

Today was blocked out for a longer hike. Our choice was Vernal Falls, not too long, but almost entirely uphill and generous in spectacular views. The trail was amazingly packed with hikers. I was shocked by the nature of some of these people. There were some who were extremely overweight, one woman on a motorized cart, tiny children, and older adults. One woman must have been 90 at the youngest, but she was blasting past all of us, it was amazing!Yosemite

It took us over an hour to reach the falls with steep climbs that were slippery from the mist. I was even a little nervous as energetic fathers ran up the slope with children strapped to their backs. I tried to hang behind our group in order to “catch” Elise, or Julia, or Mom. Sounds like a good idea, right? Well nobody died that day and the falls were gorgeous and entirely worth the climb.

Yosemite was one of the most incredible sites I’ve had the pleasure of viewing thus far in my life. It was always just a dream to see it, but dreams have a way of finding reality, I cannot wait to see the rest come alive

 

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