Friday, February 1, 2013
I just found out that, in preparation for the 150th anniversary of the Yosemite Grant, Yosemite National Park was looking for Submissions of Stories About the Park. I had very little time, but it seemed too good an opportunity to let it pass me by. So I managed to put together my own account for submission to the park.
A few of the details in what you read below (like the exact time of the first trip and the specifics of the conversation with my Mom) are the product of my imagination, but the sense of the story and most of the details are true.
I really was this nerdy as a child and it really was trips to Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Zion, and other parks as a child that inspired me to be a Park Ranger.
As he sat in the nook of a tree overlooking the South Fork of the Merced River, the boy might well have been the only person in the Wawona Campground that evening. Yosemite was a magical place unlike any he had ever seen and it took only the smallest use of his imagination to transport him into another world. It was a world of mystery and astonishment filled with giant trees, magnificent rock formations, and a deep and abiding sense of wonder and adventure.
As he looked down at the water rushing along its way he was no longer a six year old boy only yards from his campsite; he was the old man the ranger had talked about at the campfire program the night before: the man who wondered in the mountains and climbed trees in thunderstorms. The hundreds of ladybugs he could see on the banks of the river were little people far below his perch at the top of one of the great trees, looking down upon the valley beneath him.
Then he was sitting on a horse amidst the Mariposa Battalion, discovering this world for the first time… He was at the top of the great waterfall, looking down at the little chapel across the meadow they had driven by in the valley that morning… He was a peregrine falcon like the one they had seen in the museum, flying over the valley looking for something to eat…
“Garrett, dinner!” someone called from the valley below… And then suddenly he was back on his branch alongside the river and his mother was there next to him, reaching out to help him down to join the rest of the family at their nearby campsite.
Though he had to walk to dinner instead of swooping down to capture it, unlike when he was at home, he didn’t have to leave the majestic realm of his imagination behind when he returned to the “real world.” Here, in this place, a magnificent world surrounded him wherever he went, often exceeding even the wildest manifestations of his whimsy.
As the boy and his mother arrived at the table he glared at his sister. The previous night she had woken them all by imitating a bear in their tent. His parents had explained that she hadn’t made the noises on purpose, that it was because of something called her tonsils that she made those sounds in her sleep. He wasn’t sure he believed that though, and figured she had done it to annoy him.
When dinner was finished the boy and his sister made sure all the leftover food and dishes were safely packed in the bear box like the ranger had showed them. Their mom approved, proclaiming “we don’t want any real bears to come visit us tonight!”
“What do you think the ranger is going to talk about at the campfire tonight?” the boy asked.
“Well I don’t know,” his mother responded. “I suppose we better go and find out!”
“Yay!” the boy exclaimed in reply. “I love the campfire program!”
“I know you do” his mother smiled. “What would you like the ranger to talk about?”
The boy thought a moment and then said, “something new. I want to learn about something I don’t already know.”
“That sounds like a great idea” his mom replied. “There are always new things to learn in a National Park.”
“What’s a national park” the boy asked?
“Everything around you” his mom began. “All of this is a National Park.”
“Is this the only one?” the boy continued.
“No it isn’t” his mom returned. “There are lots of National Parks, and each one is different. But every park is someplace special that has been set aside and protected so that people like us can come and enjoy them.”
“Who protects them?” the boy inquired.
“Why, we all do,” his mom smiled, “but especially the park rangers. That’s their job—to protect the park and help us to better understand it.”
“The rangers get to live here in the park and tell other people about how special it is?” the boy wondered.
“They sure do” his mom responded.
January 14, 2012:
Twenty two and a half years later a man stood on the steps of that same little chapel he had looked down on in his imagination as boy. As he gazed across the meadow at Yosemite Falls he remembered what it had been like to stand at the top in real life when he had hiked up the trail several years before. His eyes followed the line of the granite walls surrounding him and he thought fondly of the many times he had come back to this place since that first visit with his family.
But this time was different than any of the others. This time he looked at the cathedral around him through different eyes. He was no longer only a visitor to National Parks: he was one of their protectors. It had not been easy and had taken a lot of perseverance, but three years previously, more than nineteen years after that conversation with his mother in the Wawona campground, he had accepted his first position as a National Park Ranger.
As his eyes turned in the direction of Bridal Veil Falls he reached down and took the hand of the woman standing next to him. Eleven months earlier he had asked her to marry him along the banks of the Rose River in Shenandoah National Park. Now, as his eyes took in her white dress illuminated by the rays of the setting sun, he thought about all that had happened between that first visit and this moment. He smiled as he pulled his new wife close, reflecting like that old man of the mountains that: "when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe."