When I was a child, more than anything I wanted to live in Yosemite National Park. I got the idea from my favorite book, Michael and Anne in Yosemite Valley, by Ansel Adams. The photos in the book are of course spectacular, and the simple story about Adams’ children living in Yosemite was compelling to my five-year old self. The children explore and play in the Valley until one day, a thunderstorm comes along, forcing them to run for their lives. They make it home in the nick of time before the rain could wash them away, at least that’s the way I imagined it. From my vantage point in the safe Bay Area suburbs, their adventures beckoned.
I remember my own family’s first trip to Yosemite. The park was sufficiently undeveloped at the time that we had to get out of the car to remove boulders from the dirt road leading into the campground. My sister and I ran and played just like Michael and Anne did, exploring every nook and cranny until the sun got low and our parents called us back.
I don’t remember any thunderstorms during that trip, but I have since experienced many when backpacking the High Sierras. There is nothing like a clap of thunder and a flash of lightening in the mountains to remind me I am only a tiny part of this grand universe. I have never been washed away by the rain that follows like I imagined Michael and Anne might, but am always reminded that respect for nature is a principle true to my heart. I enter the high country full of myself, and come away humbled.
My favorite childhood book now sits in a box in my sister’s house. I looked at it recently and realized we didn’t treat Yosemite with the respect it deserves. Red and blue scribbles adorn the pages next to the photos of Half Dome and Bridal Veil Falls, a far from humble testament to my ego centered five-year old view of things. It was in growing up and experiencing the real Yosemite and other wild places that I learned to care deeply about the planet and in doing so, try my best not to scribble it up.
With a Perspective, I’m Carol Arnold.
Carol Arnold is an environmental planner. She lives in San Francisco.