Posts Tagged ‘Yosemite’

Dogwood at Nelder Grove - Deanna Wulff

Dogwood at Nelder Grove – Deanna Wulff

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.


High School Student, Waitress at Wawona, Ranger

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.

The South Fork of the Merced River

The South Fork of the Merced River

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 Sierra National Forest - Nelder Grove

The Sierra National Forest

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.

After the Rim Fire

The Stanislaus Forest after the Rim Fire

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.

View of the Sierra National Forest from North Fork San Joaquin River - Photo by David Husted

View of the Sierra National Forest from the North Fork San Joaquin River – Photo by David Husted

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.


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Ralph Waldo Emerson

Emerson is the original American naturalist and the first transcendentalist. He considered nature and the universe inseparable from the human soul. Outdoor lovers and independent thinkers who haven’t yet read him might consider his influence on the father of our national parks, John Muir. Muir met Emerson for the first time in Yosemite Valley, a place many of us know and love. On the arrival of Emerson, Muir wrote:

“When he came into the Valley I heard the hotel people saying with solemn emphasis, ‘Emerson is here.’ I was excited as I had never been excited before, and my heart throbbed as if an angel direct from heaven had alighted on the Sierran rocks.”

It’s safe to say that Muir carried beauty within him wherever he wandered.

Learn why Muir and many others were excited to meet Emerson, and check out Emerson’s inspiring essays, “Self-Reliance” and “Compensation.”

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Writers are bad publicists, I’m told. Agreed. Public self-disclosure seems odd to me—especially right now on the cusp of summer, which is my one long private moment to walk up in the mountains and let my feet wander wherever, because it’s what I want to do and where I want to be. There are no witnesses to declare it good, bad, funny or entertaining, and that’s not the point anyway. It’s my own happy moment spread out over an entire season, starting in mid-June and running into September.

Morning at the Lake

Sometimes, I go on outrageous hikes when I get super excited about a place or hatch an idea from the coffee shop or couch, and then I get into all kinds of trouble and call it adventure. But that’s rare.

Most of the time, I simply stroll in beautiful places and feel fantastic for no particular reason. There is no goal, achievement or purpose. There is only the present moment, and it’s more than good enough. The Sierra Nevada is so perfectly formed, so outstanding, picturesque and sensuous, it’s impossible not to be happy there, and if I’m unhappy, I know it’s because of something that I’ve brought with me, a complexity or conflict, which is on mind. But just by hiking in Yosemite, I’m able to problem solve without working too hard; I just follow my thoughts wherever they lead and the answer eventually arrives. But since I want to enjoy the mountains as they are and not really think about anything at all, I try to deal with issues sooner rather than later, with some success and some failure, always with the best intentions.

Here are two quotes that beautifully summarize these opposing approaches to life and hiking.  I found them in an article on resiliency.

Helen Keller:“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.”

Anne Frank: “The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely, or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature, and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature.”

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