It’s difficult to guard a secret for most of your life and then tell everyone about it. I didn’t even tell my fiancé about it, until we had known each other for a year. I didn’t want him to think I was too “out there.”
It’s as if I’m describing someone else’s life. In high school, I had closets full of clothes, I’d curl my hair just exactly so, and I’d wear nylons with matching flats and belts every day. I was even voted “most likely to make a million.”
And that was the plan.
But that particular plan began to unravel when I realized that it didn’t matter if I had all the money in the world, if I sold my life in exchange for it. You get one life, and that’s it. This realization led to another question or two: What makes people happy? What makes life worth living? I chose to study journalism, because I could ask anyone whatever I wanted under the guise of a story. I was looking for hints from our best and brightest. Still, when I finished my degree, I’d only gained a surface understanding of it all, so I applied to get a Master’s Degree in literature. Perhaps, our greatest writers could explain life’s mysteries.
That’s when things took an unexpected turn.
My parents balked at paying for another liberal arts degree. My grades were fair, but not good enough for a scholarship, and I wasn’t willing to acquire debt. So how would I pay for graduate school? I walked through the student union, and there was a career fair. Tenaya Lodge, a resort on the south side of Yosemite, was offering summer jobs. I applied and got the job. Off I went.
When I arrived, I rented a room from a couple who I didn’t know. I soon learned that they had problems with drugs and alcohol, and they argued a lot. I referred to them, as Mr. Six-Pack, and Mrs. Bottle of Wine. One day, the police had been called. Six-Pack had threatened to drag Wine off into the woods and kill her. He had crashed his car into her friend’s vehicle too. Time to get out of there. Pronto. I packed my bags, scribbled a quick goodbye note, left a $50 check for extraneous bills and headed out into the night. The problem was—I had no place to go. I called my mom, and she paid for a hotel that first night.
The very next day, I went into the woods and pitched a tent. I stored my clothes in a locker at the lodge and showered there. I would work until late at night and then drive out into the darkness to sleep in a flimsy nylon contraption. Initially, I was terrified. I would grip a cooking pot and a bottle of laundry bleach each night. My plan, if attacked? I would hit the intruder with the pot and throw bleach in his eyes. But nothing bad ever happened. Instead, something wonderful happened. I would awake to the smell of pine, to the mellifluous sounds of a nearby stream, to warm sun draping through boughs of trees, to birds singing and chipmunks scurrying along. In a month, I never felt happier or more beautiful in my life. So I came back the next summer and the next. Each time, I felt as if the light of all living things was flowing through me. It was pure joy. I did return to finish graduate school, but my real education came from the woods. I decided that the wilderness was worth knowing better.
Again, off I went.
Fast forward nearly 20 years. I’ve explored the American West relentlessly, and in all that time, I’ve only grown a deeper admiration for the original place. Its quiet beauty infuses my soul with peace and contentment. Upon my return, however, I noticed its neglect—big trees gone, soil eroded, land overrun. It’s been logged, mined and seldom given the care it needs. Then, I witnessed the Rim Fire. I watched as the northern portion of Yosemite and the Stanislaus Forest went up in flames, and I realized that the forest on the southern side might suffer the same fate too—and if isn’t cared for, no one will get to experience the power and beauty of the forest, as I did.
So how do we save the forest on the southern side of Yosemite?
We change the policy at the highest level via a national monument designation. With a Presidential Proclamation, we can protect more than 500,000 acres, two major watersheds, hundreds of Indian artifacts, unique geological formations and the lovely delicate forest. In doing so, we can extend nature’s reach.
People will be able to walk from the Central Valley up into the High Sierra and beyond in a peaceful undeveloped setting. We’re starting near the Minarets, the high peaks in the region, the spiritual pinnacles, and we’re going to grow outward from there. If you’d like to join in the creation of this special place, contact me via email or donate to the Minarets Foundation.
Let’s build a big beautiful park for people and for wildlife for all time.