Friday, July 09, 2010

Yosemite post

I'm sitting here at home scratching my mosquito bites and nursing a sore shin, thinking about how Yosemite valley just feels magical. It's too good, too pretty to be as close to my house as it is. As we exited the park, I told E it almost felt like Yosemite was dreamed up in the head of the government in some X-Filesy conspiracy to put so much nature, wildlife, and beauty all so close together. The sheer impossibility of such a thing being man-made makes it even more special and a bit overwhelming, if I really allow myself to think about it. E's family celebrated its 25th anniversary trip to Yosemite this year. I am happy I've been around for the last ten or so.

Each family member's enthusiasm seems to cycle depending on his or her stage of life. Of course, there are some who never really get that excited about it, but everyone makes an effort because the family is there. There are occasionally babies who can only appreciate it from dirt-level and within whatever small radius Mom allows. There are school-age kids who climb every molehill, boulder, and log in sight. There are husbands who come for a little while to make wives happy, teens who put on an air of boredom (always with an eye to the bikinis on the other side of the river), enthusiastic hikers, lazy book-readers, sweaty bus riders, die-hards who go without fail and a chatty grandpa with a twinkle in his eye. When I say "the family is there", I mean FAMILY, as there are 29 of us when we all show up as we did this year. (Actually, one is on the way to round things out to 30.) It's a sort of family reunion and a nice comma to punctuate the stretch between Christmases.

As E and I have established our own family, there have been years when we didn't attend or attended without each other--the hot summer of my pregnancy with Ad, the torturous year I had to get CLAD certified before school started again, the tenuous years leading up to our separation, and the nerve-chilling year of E's studying for the Bar exam. Through all of this, Yosemite remains a constant. Bus schedules, granite walls, buzzing mosquitos, campers booming "Elmer!" as the sun sets, and dancing flashlights in the trees. To enter the park is to crack a window and breathe in river water, coffee-dark earth, and burning embers: familiarity. In high school and college years we dated, E spent hours on the Housekeeping Camp store phone with me back at home. My first trip to Yosemite to camp was with my own family in 1994--Dad, Lis, and I hiked Half Dome. Each visit hearkens those times for me as well as the many trips I've now taken with E, Mimi, April and the entire gang. It warmed my hear to be there as a family unit following our recent personal years of tribulation.

This year E's Aunt Sal, eldest sister (of 7!) and matriarchal guardian of the Yosemite tradition, asked us each to prepare a favorite memory that we could share at our celebratory campfire on the 4th. I gave my answer thought that day as we went through motions of a comfortable group in a comfortable place. We could share three; my final one was that it felt to me like I got to live in their family albums. (Hardly an event, I realize. A liberal interpretation of a YoMemory.) As one who married in to the family, the yearly trip to Yosemite has given me so much insight into E's youth and the family history each member carries with them.

Visiting the same place every year means that the powerful memory triggers--scent, sight, sound, taste, touch--all conspire to evoke storytelling and retelling of jokes. To hike or ride a bus or sit at the river or around a campfire with anyone from the family is to hear their recollections of what happened there in the years prior. Remember when we all used to camp in Housekeeping? This stretch of river is where Sam made us build a dam. This Nature Center is where Addie discovered bear sounds. Up there is where Douglas hiked in one day. In the cabin is where Grandma used to bring her TV. This is the log where we made the cousins sit and take a picture. I find it fascinating and completely endearing. I come from a family of storytellers, and through fate was able to marry into one as well.

Another aspect of the oft-visited natural vacation spot are the endless comparisons that happen. The falls were much bigger/smaller last year. The traffic was lighter/heavier. Remember that time we had an empty/full bus? Remember when you could walk to the cabins at the back of Curry? Remember the old buses? Remember the rangers walking through the campground at night? The bear boxes in front of the cabins at Curry? The meat bees on our fried chicken? These comparisons abound with marking the growth of children as well. For just my own children I have powerful memories of nursing them in the dirt, trying to soak them in the tub at night, holding their hands so they could scale up two foot rocks, stashing their baby food in backpacks. At each stage my own children have hit, I've gotten to hear the stories of E and his myriad cousins. It links what my children do to the family chain.

I'll openly admit my conversion from a doubting twentysomething to die-hard in my 30's. The trigger was seeing my children's eyes open to the beauty and amazement of the park in progressively wider circles. As I mentioned, their first years there were spent under nursing blankets or in baby slings, but each year they radiate outward, discovering bugs and rocks and trails. Each time, it seems new to me too. This year with the introduction of their new ability to access the world by bike, our circle jumped miles beyond Housekeeping and Curry (if only as far as the Village store... good enough for me) and again we celebrated it like it was new. My new found love of running changed my own experience as well, as I've now altered my own relationship with the park.

Last night when I uploaded pictures, Henry looked at a picture and said "what's that?"

I couldn't believe he didn't recognize something as iconic, and I replied "Half Dome."

You see where this is going, right? He looked at me serious as a heart attack and said "What's Half Dome?"

Apparently our circle has more growing ahead. Hopefully in the next few years it will expand up as well as out. I feel like there will always be more for us there to discover together.

More Yosemite posts to come (including our pictures, which I still have to sort). I just wanted to get my thoughts down before I got mired in the muck of photo-editing).

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your trip! I'm in Arkansas now, and can't get to The Valley like I used to. Half Dome is worth the trip. Take work gloves for the cables. (Yes they are scary!) But my all time favoritest of all day hikes: 11 miles from Glacier Point to Happy Isles. Take the first daily bus to G.P., then it's mostly downhill (one mean stretch of up, though) past three major waterfalls. Eyes pop, mist cools. This one-long-day hike Will Change You!