Monday, November 01, 2004

Yosemite Psalm (Epilogue)

Day Seven: The trail home
The next morning we broke camp around 10 o’clock. We still had a little more than four miles to hike to reach Yosemite Valley and wrap up our weeklong Yosemite adventure. Rejoining the John Muir Trail out of Little Yosemite, we all looked around us as we proceeded down the so-called ‘Mist Trail,’ still mesmerized by the beauty we had taken in over the previous seven days.

The four miles back to back where we started from would be rather easy by comparison to what we’d been used to for the lion’s share of the trip. The Mist Trail is so-named for its proximity to two of Yosemite’s most celebrated waterfalls, the mighty Nevada Falls and the equally beautiful, but more lilting Vernal Falls. This late in the season and in conjunction with the fact that we were in the midst of a drought, neither of the two water features were providing a lot of “mist” that day however. The falls were indeed beautiful, but I had seen them displacing twice the water than this in past visits to this trail.

We were actually going opposite the flow of traffic on this final leg of our backpacking journey. The Mist Trail is the beginning of the famous and much-traveled Happy Isles Trail Loop, which begins in Yosemite Valley. From this starting point, you can pick up trails to nearly any point in the Park. It is a popular jumping-off point for most visitors to the Park, who will typically hike the Mist Trail to see the falls, and often to go the extra three miles to climb Half Dome. Going up from the Valley, the trail is steep, and when the falls are full, the rocky way can be slippery. Consequently it’s somewhat of a slow go if there is much in the way of traffic. But coming down, especially under these drier conditions, it was a pleasant, fast jaunt. We made the 4.3 miles in record time.

It’s a far cry from Sloth-quality, but the mountain flowers were beautiful. This is the only one of about five that I took that turned out reasonably decent.

Nevada Falls, which in the springtime, puts out an unbelievable amount of water, is at this point less than spectacular, but beautiful nonetheless. That’s Ron’s wife Ellie in the foreground.

Approaching Vernal Falls, one of my favorite photographs from this trip. This is where the “Mist Trail” lives up to its name under normal conditions.

There are signs all over Yosemite that pretty much tell it like it is (although once again I never thought to take a picture of one of ‘em). Near to this point, which is actually beyond the point that you’re supposed to be standing (I had Ron holding on to my backpack as I leaned in to take the shot), is a sign which basically says, “Stay out of the water. If you go over the falls, you will die.”

Showers — the gift of the gods
It’s just my opinion, but never let it be said, despite all it’s wonderful benefits and soul-stirring revelations of oneness with nature, that the ‘back country naturalist’ existence is superior to modern life. I wouldn’t trade what few true wilderness experiences I’ve had for anything, but it doesn’t take more than a couple of times having to dig a freaking hole just to make poopy, to make one realize how ill-equipped we are to live such a life today.

Yosemite was incredible, but after this longest backpacking trip of my life, getting back to the Valley and a hot shower was nearly as gratifying. Going for a whole week without such a taken-or-granted convenience really causes you to become aware of how urbanized we have become. I’m not saying that’s good or bad — it just is. That’s why it’s so important, in my opinion, to make a trip such as this at some point in your lifetime; to experience life in the wilderness, placing yourself in a circumstance where not only your days require pre-planning, but a heightened awareness of your surroundings at all times is a prerequisite for survival.

After that welcome shower and change of clothes, we piled the gear back in our cars and bade a fond farewell to our old friend, Yosemite. She was a most gracious host.

On the road again
As we headed back toward SoCal, I remember my body feeling nearly numb. I’m not sure if it was from the physical fatigue of a week of backpacking or the delirium of having such an uplifting dance with nature. I only know that there was an indelible grin plastered on my face. I felt good.

My sense of satisfaction got an even greater shot in the arm as I flipped through the dial of my car radio. You see, our excursion had taken place during the time of the Major League Baseball player’s strike of 1981. To my delight I learned that the two sides had come to a resolution during the week, and were in the midst of a few days of exhibition games as a warm-up to resuming play, sort of a second mini-Spring Training. We were out of normal radio range for most stations, however I was successful in picking up what sounded like play-by-play. The faint signal turned out to be a game between the Angels and the Cincinnati Reds. Wow! Baseball was back! And with two of my favorite teams to boot!

Then it hit me. I thought about the contrast of the two experiences that were arm-wrestling for domination of my mind at that moment. Simultaneously I was feeling the high of being surrounded by so much natural beauty, but also the exhilaration of knowing that my favorite sport was back in business after seven weeks of torturous absence. At first I felt repulsed by my own feelings. How dare I be so fickle as to allow my wilderness experience to be tainted by something so frivolous and mundane as professional sports. How shallow is that?

But then I stepped back a bit and really thought about it. Isn’t it really all about enjoying life? Isn’t it about appreciating every aspect of the time we have here on this planet? Baseball and back country are apples and oranges in more ways than one. They’re both good, and they’re both legitimate, because they’re both a part of my life and they both make me happy. I’ve always tried to embrace everything in life; not just the grand things, but the mundane, the man-made and simple aspects of what makes me, ‘me.’ I believe that to do anything less is to do myself a disservice.

The first day of the rest of our lives
When we got home late that night, we knew that we’d had a great time, but also knew we’d been through the ringer. There would be no unpacking this night. I think we just hit the hay as soon as we got home.

One of the aspects of this trip as being a ‘life-changing’ endeavor was the fact that it was by intention, our last fling as a childless couple. We both turned 25 that year and were ready to start a family. Michelle, following her doctor’s advice had gone off birth control a couple weeks before the trip. He said that it would take up to a month for her body to re-adjust to a normal ovulation schedule, making it possible for her to become pregnant. So as scheduled, as soon as we came back from Yosemite, I took on that daunting task of trying to get my wife pregnant. Yeah, it was a tough job, but somehow I mustered the strength to get it done. *grin*

About a month later Michelle walked through the front door after a visit to her gynecologist. I’ll never forget the look on her face until the day I die. She wasn’t even through the door yet, but was still in mid-stride across the threshold when she looked up at me, sitting on the living room sofa, and said those magic words.

“You’re gonna be a Daddy.”

If that doesn’t bring tears to the eyes of even the most macho of men, then they’re not really a man in my opinion. I was completely overjoyed. As I sprang to my feet to embrace the new Mommy-to-be, one of the first things running through my mind was, “Wow…that didn’t take long!”

It turned out that Michelle’s due date was May 8th, although our son Shawn liked things so well inside Mommy’s Baby Garage that he decided to hang out for an extra two weeks before making his entrance into the real world. So it’s more likely than not that we actually did get pregnant immediately after coming back from Yosemite, just like we planned.

I still don’t know the exact dates that we were actually on the trip, but I can estimate it accurately to within a few days. Once again, thank goodness for the Internet! As it turns out, I can extrapolate the dates from just one event — that baseball game I tuned in to on the drive home from Yosemite.

Remember my mentioning that I was surprised to find that the Baseball Strike of 1981 had ended when I found that the Angels and Reds were playing an exhibition game? Well I found in researching this, that the strike was officially resolved on July 31st. Given the fact that I never heard about it I can only assume this means that we were already gone and out of out of communication with the sports world on that day. There’s no other way, given my passion for sports that I could have missed a story so big as that. It would have dominated the newspapers and TV. I surely would have heard about it somehow.

Okay, the next thing to consider was the exhibition game I heard on the radio that evening as we were driving home. In my research on the Web, I could only find a single reference to it on a Cincinnati Reds-related web page, which said that two such games were played between the Reds and Angels at that time, and that they occurred just prior to the Major League Baseball All Star Game, which officially ushered in the resumption of the season.

So taking those two items as the front and back ends respectively of our trip, I’m reasonably sure that our seven-day trip went from Friday July 31st through Thursday August 6th. The All Star Game was played on Sunday August 9th, and the 8th would have been necessary for use as a travel day for the players participating in it, meaning that the two exhibition games were played on the 6th and 7th. I distinctly remember them saying that the game I was listening to was the first game played since the strike was declared to be over, logically meaning that the date was August 6th.

So again, given the due date, and further, the date of his actual birth, chances are that Michelle became pregnant with Shawn after we got home, rather than my more romantic notion that his conception was in Yosemite Valley, which I alluded to earlier.

Of course nobody really knows about these things, right? I mean it’s possible that our first baby was actually conceived that first night in the backpacker’s campground, isn’t it? A big part of me will always believe that. And it makes perfect sense, given the way Shawn has turned out; he is an outdoorsman in every sense of the word; he was an Eagle Scout, he’s an avid rock climber, and his major in college is Forestry. It only seems right that his life was conceived in the wilderness, forged partly of the beauty surrounding us and that I could honestly feel penetrating every part of me.

But one thing surely was conceived that wonderful week in Yosemite — the life of my memories there. They took firm root in my mind and are still flourishing now, 23 years later. They sing that familiar song that I still hear clearly whenever I stop long enough to listen. It’s a song of exhilaration; a psalm of peace. I hope I’ll get another chance to hear it again in person, but if not, I know that it will always be with me.

Not marble nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme.

— Shakespeare, Sonnets, LV

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