Thursday, October 21, 2004

Yosemite Psalm (Prologue)

Purple mountain’s majesty
Like most kids born in the flat terrain of the Midwest, I didn’t have a lot of experience with molehills, let alone mountains. I certainly had no concept of the majestic Sierra Nevada mountain range of California. Sure, it was a name that I heard in school on occasion, and I’m sure I saw plenty of pictures of mountains in books and on post cards, and images of their splendor on TV. But none of it totally registered. Nothing like that ever really does until you experience it first-hand.

When we moved to California in 1969, I saw the mountains for the first time at age 13. I was awestruck at just the sight of the local San Bernardino range, which on a clear day magically appeared upon the eastern horizon from my home in Long Beach. On most days the mountains are completely obscured by the smog of the LA Basin. But occasionally, most often during the winter months, after a rainstorm or a period of high barometric pressure, the smog would subside for a day or two — sometimes as long as a week — and the often snow-capped ‘San Berdoo’ Mountains would tease us with a brief peep show, revealing their hidden beauty. In the years that I grew up in SoCal, I always looked forward to winter specifically for that reason — to see the mountains off in the distance. It was such a surreal sight for me, adding to the already ‘wonderland’ mystique of my new homeland. There never seemed to be an end to the newness of my California environs, and I’m happy to say, that feeling has never left me, which is the main reason I’ll never tire of returning to visit The Golden State.

One such visit that I hope will come, if not next Summer then soon thereafter, is a return to that most magical of all places for me in the mountains of California, Yosemite National Park. Yosemite is the subject of this story and has continually been the subject of my longing over the past 23 years; a longing to retrace a trip in which Michelle and I, along with another couple, backpacked 25 miles through breathtakingly beautiful wilderness via the John Muir Trail for one glorious week in August of 1981. It wasn’t my first trip there, but it was my longest and most recent. It is a place I vowed to return to one day with my children, before my children were even born. But while I realized that trip would necessarily be many years off into the future, I never figured that this much time would elapse before it came to pass.

This is probably the quintessential view of Yosemite Valley, seen as you enter the park from the Southwest. That's El Capitan on the left, and in the distant right-center of this magnificent vista stands the sentinel of the Valley, Half Dome. This series will feature a lot of pictures, most of which I took. This however, is NOT one of them.

Let’s get readeee ta’ stumble!
Let’s be honest. I’m not your typical goal-oriented guy, as my wife will quickly attest. But to return to Yosemite as a family and retrace that 1981 backpacking trip is one very tangible goal that I’ve had for years, and it’s never faded.

But the longer we wait the harder it will obviously be for the old folks. Due to the terrain, this is no easy jaunt. There’s an awful lot of uphill-downhill hiking along the John Muir Trail from Toulemne Meadows to Yosemite Valley. It would be no problem for my son, who next summer will be near the same age that I was in 1981, and is probably just as fit. He’s been a rock climber since he was fifteen and I’m sure he would salivate at the idea of doing it, provided of course that he could lead. My daughter on the other hand is no couch potato, but would probably not be in shape to make the trip if we were leaving today. But I’m sure she could get it together in time to be ready for next summer. I hope to make the reservations soon after the first of the year. There are just so many things hinging upon our ability to pull it off in 2005.

As for Michelle and me, with apologies to Michael Buffer, we are certainly not "ready to rumble" as of the moment ourselves. However I’m confident we could be, given a few months of training next spring.

But that’s so next year.

What I want to talk about now is twenty-three years ago, in a place whose name is based on the local Indian word for Grizzly Bear; the place where the earth and the sky collide with your soul.

It’s a place as holy and filled with God’s glory as any cathedral ever built with human hands; a place whose mighty and ancient monuments of granite remind me of how small and transitory a creature man is by comparison.

It’s a place that fills my mind with the music of wind rushing through the trees, water flowing through winding streams, and birds calling out nature’s song: a Yosemite Psalm.

Next: Ron
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