Christmas Day in Yosemite
Yosemite, Christmas Day
Reporting from Mundo Antiguo Network, pencil to paper from Yosemite, where you order your coffee and pastry at an electronic kiosk. Everyone else has a hand held device to record in stills and video the iconic nature of Yosemite Park.
I always feel archaic here around people because I am an English speaker. We are a minority this morning at the coffee shop. Japanese and French are preferred within my earshot.
On the approach, in the bus, we filled up in Mariposa with Chinese tourists and after we'd finished with the lodges at El Portal, it was standing room only. Sight of the Cedar Lodge made me feel doubly ancient, remembering my reporting for the Merced Sun-Star on the 1999 Cary Stayner murder spree.
A fellow from the Mariposa group sat down beside me in the front passenger seat, took out his hand held device and video recorded the entire drive from there into the park, about 35 miles of winding two-lane state highway beside the Merced River, including a huge rockslide that took out the road and forced the highway across a one-lane bridge onto a three-mile stretch of one-lane highway. I imagined the video going from his machine to other machines as his effort to make the beauty of this road and the entrance to Yosemite Valley comprehensive, I mean like TV.
It is a sunny day, not snowing as predicted. There was no ice on the walkways; fortunate, because I left my cane at home. I am strolling about the asphalted walks on the floor of the Valley in danger of taking a fall on a recently replaced hip. Note to self: Better break a wrist or the other hip than fall on that one.
Self to Author: You're always so dramatic.
Or walk carefully.
Or don't walk at all.
Trump's government shutdown has emptied the park of visible rangers in campaign hats. The gates to the park are unmanned according to the newspaper, so people can drive up and avoid paying $25. But not too many have decided to spend Christmas at Yosemite. The Visitor's Center, the bookstore, Ansel Adams Gallery and other federally sponsored amenities are closed.
Outside my window at the coffee shop, an Asian man extends his arm and makes a slow pirouette as his hand held device records the buildings, trees and fields, and the mountain walls behind them. He also talks into the hand held device as he turns.
Yosemite Captured Haiku
Cold water drips
up my sleeve.
This journal, begun about a half an hour ago is already an embarrassment. To begin with, it is so imprecise a hand held device. People look away when they notice my uncouth recording methodology. It is definitely unclear what that old geezer is doing in his notebook. They wonder if I smell if they were to get too close to me. Probably. I begin to think I look like I've got a stink on me. Not someone they'd want in their video experience of Yosemite National Park.
In the coffee shop I hear the familiar sound of the Wailing Toddler, who has irritated us on the bus intermittently from Mariposa. He wants his mother's breast. So do I but you don't hear me wailing about it. Just after the bus started the return trip, I was again sitting in the front passenger seat chatting with the driver when the bus was stopped due to heavy pedestrian traffic. The driver was just telling me that the little shoe on his dashboard belonged to the kid who cried all the way from Mariposa, when we heard the Wailing One outside the bus. The driver opened the door, raised the shoe, and shouted down to the parents asking if their child was missing a shoe. The couple didn't understand his words but saw the shoe and rushed to the bus's open door, received the shoe with voluble "thank yous" and I think they smiled for the first time that day.
I left the coffee shop and limped down to the store where I knew they had a barrel full of walking sticks. I sorted through the lot by price and height until I found one for $28. In Yosemite that's a deal, It looked like a broom handle with a rubber cap on one end and the thong through a hole on the other end. It was marked "Pine" and "Yosemite," and according to the tag attached to the thong it was hand-crafted by expert craftsmen living near the Brazos River in Texas. The Brazos looks like the Merced River when it reaches the San Joaquin Valley, but nothing like its origins in Yosemite,
The stick and I took a two-mile walk, my longest since the hip operation. We walked to Lower Yosemite Falls and back. The falls were falling and the boulders beneath them were festooned with tourists taking selfies with the falls in the background. Chinese and Spanish seemed the dominant languages in the Lower Falls crowd at that moment but one American family was unmistakable. They were a large, multi-generation group and not slim like the foreigners around them. In the middle sat a granny in a wheelchair. While a couple of boys and one or two men stared over the bridge at the water looking for fish, a grand-daughter was bellowing something at granny. I might have gone closer to hear what she was saying but to do so I would have had to cross through a half-dozen on-going photo sessions. I could hear her voice above the hubbub of languages and the sound of the falls, but I couldn't make out what she was telling her grandmother so intently.
On my way back I stopped at the site of Muir's sawmill and the water trace he used for power. There was another old jasper there who also had a walking stick. But his stick was more authentic because it still had strips of inner bark layer while mine was a clean as a school janitor's broom handle. He had also removed the little leather tag from the expert craftsmen on the thong. And he had a beard and a wool hat with earflaps and strings which might have been braids of his hair. He was jovial, announced he came from Martinez where the Muir Farm was located and went to the annual John Muir Birthday celebration on Earth Day. And the longer I looked at him the easier it was to see him in a crumpled fedora and an old suit tramping around the mountains. He lingered, saying several times he had to go because his wife ... motioning down the hill. But neither he nor she attempted a cellphone call to the other. He wanted to educate me I think, but there was something a little bogus, too. I asked if the ex-congressman from Martinez, former chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, was still in town. He smiled and said he didn't know him and didn't spend much time in Martinez because he spent so much time in Yosemite.or San Francisco or Benicia or ... he waved at Everywhere but Martinez. He smiled, one gentleman-on-a-walking stick-to-another, to remind me that respectable people who live where oil companies rule restrict their environmental activities to genteel fundraising and reenactments in costume rather than consorting with politicians and environmental comrades who sue or with former business agents of the Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers Union. But Muir was an elitist, too, and his social values inform the Sierra Club to this day. And the union folded in 1999.
They are cutting down dead trees in the Valley. There are piles of debris, the smaller limbs, and near the piles are trees whose bark has been stripped high up from the force of trees falling against them. Nearby there is a logging truck loaded with good-sized sections of a tree, but it looked as if it was mired in mud.
The only snow I saw all day was inside the debris piles.
The oaks in their crowded stands in the Valley arch out at their tops as if trying to touch one another. Why shouldn't there be love among oaks of the same species? Another explanation is that the limbs on the sunny side grow faster and get heavier and weigh down the main limbs creating the arches. Let the ravens take care of spreading wild oaks.
Then, looking at the oaks, waiting for the return bus, I finally arrive. My consciousness shifts into what I call the country sense. The periphery widens and immediate focus weakens as the magnificence of this place overwhelms me. Muir called it being with God in the mountains. Whatever higher form of perception this is, it's how nature quenches a deep thirst in the soul.
As we drive down the river canyon in shadows, the sun is still up, the sky is clear overhead, and the river is silver. Farther and later, dark clouds overhead underlit by the sunset, the river turns a muddy maroon. And sometimes, shortly before nightfall, pewter is its color. But the riffles and rapids are always white. The flowing, free, ever-changing proportions of the winter stream are the most beautiful things I have seen on this whole trip, the dance of water on rocks as it tumbles down the glacial moraine.
A Gray fox streaked in front of the bus at the last stop in El Portal.