YOSEMITE SUMMER: Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

This is the final blog post about my recent month long visit to California and experiences in Yosemite National Park, where I served as a park volunteer.

Sunday, July 12

I woke up at 6:30 and removed all the “furnishings” from my tent before sweeping the tent floor. Just as he “helped” me put up the tent, Woodlee was on the scene to help me take it down. Fortunately, he did not have to do all the work this time around. Cassie left me her whisk broom and paper towels to make sure she receives a clean and dry tent. This gal plans ahead. I spent several hours getting the tent in order. It’s going to a good home.

Breakfast was simple if not heart healthy – half of a ham sandwich, chips, pears, and cookies. After breakfast and tent duties, I made a call home and then headed to the meadow for a short walk.

Tuolumne Meadows

Tuolumne Meadows

Cassie returned around 2:00 and we completed the lodging transaction. We exchanged fond farewells before she headed out for her two-day drive to Missoula, Montana. She promised to stay in touch with all the volunteers. She is a delight and a fond memory. While I will miss Cassie, I could only be happy for her. She absolutely glowed about seeing her boyfriend again. He is one lucky young man.

With completion of the transaction, I headed to Tuolumne Lodge to celebrate with an “It’s It” ice cream bar, a treat I came to relish several years ago but is not sold by the general store.

Sunday evening meant live entertainment at the Mobil. Woodlee was elsewhere, so it meant just Jim and the ladies – Dee, Cyndi, and Susan. Adrienne was not up to the trip. As the ladies ate healthy and I did not (fish tacos and black beans), we made small talk, all of us overwhelmed with the realization that our close-knit group of volunteers was in the process of dismantling. Adrienne would leave Monday afternoon, after her service at Olmsted Point. Susan would leave the following evening after attending a program in the Valley.

Mono Lake

Mono Lake

But rather than despair over our fast approaching diaspora, I suggested that we drive north on 395 to walk a boardwalk trail at Mono Lake. It proved to be just the right tonic. The high desert air turned cooler but not cold as we took in the scent of flora and fauna so very different from that of the park. The lake is another world, adorned with tufa towers, surrounded by craters and mountains – the Mono Craters to the south, the Sierra Nevada to the west, and the White Mountains to the east. As their ancestors have done for millennia, the sea gulls feast on the insects and feed their hatchlings. Mild breezes reward the few people who enter this magical world. And we felt rewarded that we could share one more time together, having looked out for one another the past five weeks and having learned that all of us had gained more from our experience than we ever could have given in return.

Monday, July 13

Off to Parsons Lodge one last time. I awoke from a less-than-comfortable night sleeping in the car. I had a two-person backpacking tent, but did not want to go through the trouble of pitching it. My body wished that I had made the effort.

Before heading to Parsons, I groggily exchanged morning greetings. With fresh memories of car sleeping, I told my friends I probably will try to get a room in Reno Tuesday night after my final volunteer duties at the Visitors Center. Cyndi reminded me that her father is coming to the park this afternoon and will be staying several nights. Dee and Susan asked if I would like to join them tonight for what I understood to be the 7:00 “Stars” program in the valley. When they said they planned to dine at the Ahwahnee Bar, I could not refuse.

Parsons got more foot traffic than usual. I answered any and all questions and enjoyed the delightfully sunny day, with temperatures only reaching the mid-60’s. I closed promptly at 4:00, so as not to delay Susan and Dee. As I began to leave, I was approached by a white-haired, white-bearded hiker, probably in his late 70’s, who clearly had taken on too strenuous a hike. He asked me to reach in the back of his pack for his empty water bottle and fill it with water for him. As I did so, he winced in great pain as he took the trail toward the closest shuttle stop. When I caught up with him, he thanked me for the water. I noticed he wore a brown apron and his fingernails were painted various colors. He called me his trail angel as he ambled to his destination and I hurried to catch my ride to the Valley.

Susan was waiting on Tioga Road, her car filled to the brim, with room for only one passenger. After she was certain Dee had spotted her, we headed to the Valley. Once there, I wondered why the “stars” program began at 7:00. The sun would not set until 8:30. But I said nothing, as we shared one last meal at the Ahwahnee Bar.

We then headed to the auditorium for the program. We ran a little late but had not missed much of the SAR (Search and Rescue) program. I’ve got to get these hearing aids checked! The subject matter held my attention far longer than any astronomy program would.

Around 9:00, Dee and I said our farewells to Susan. The troops are thinning fast as we lose the kindest of a very kind-hearted group. With my poor sleep from the night before, I’m glad Dee is making the 90-minute drive back to camp. I’m convinced I can sleep more comfortably in the car than I did on Sunday.

Tuesday, July 14

Last volunteer day, this time at the Visitors Center. I check for Reno room rates. Not happy with the quoted prices, I decide I can handle the car one more night, despite overwhelming fatigue from lack of sleep.

The volunteer stint pretty much mirrored my prior experience – most people with too little time set aside to fully appreciate a 1200 square mile park. But I kept on smiling, reminding myself that I had been in their shoes 28 years ago. The afternoon got busier than usual and I found myself answering inquiries well after 4:00. But I got back to the camp by 4:45, and the last volunteers standing – Woodlee, Cyndi (with her dad, Hugh), and Dee agreed we deserved one more night at the Mobil. I would spend one more night in the car.

Off to the Mobil again, this time with a deck of cards to play a game of Hearts. Cyndi got a win under her belt and we headed back up always-challenging Tioga Road (3300 feet of elevation gain over a 12-mile stretch, ever watchful for fallen rocks).

On the way back, Woodlee reminded me that he had offered me a tent for the evening. I pooh-poohed the offer until the entire group shamed me into admitting that I needed a better night’s sleep. Upon our return, he brought his “one-minute” tent to my campsite, along with a mattress pad. Cyndi brought over another mattress pad. That allowed me to roll out my sleeping bag its full length, affording me the opportunity for a good night’s sleep before driving to Reno the next morning. Sometimes you’ve got to admit when you’re wrong.

Wednesday, July 15

What a perfect way to end my summer stay, six deer grazing within 15 yards of my tent. Bleary eyed, I managed to take a photo of several of them before walking the longest 90 yards to the restroom.

 Deer in the campground

Deer in the campground

This really was the final day. I had to vamoose by noon. I returned the mattress pads to Woodlee and Cyndi and gave my sleeping bag to Woodlee – I had no room to carry it and he said he could make use of it. Various miscellaneous items I left for Cyndi. I had a quick breakfast and said my final farewells. Five weeks that early on seemed too long now had passed all too quickly. It’s time to sum up in a few brief words my fellow volunteers:

Adrienne – the most courageous, who overcame medical issues that would have kept the rest of us home. Intelligent and witty; I wish her a speedy recovery.

Cassie – the youngest, who not only tolerated but generously socialized with a much older crew. Cool and calm, she has extensive knowledge of the park for someone of her tender age. “Chatty Cassie” because she spent hours on the phone with her beau almost every evening.

Cyndi – Aquawoman, good hearted and probably the most athletic of the group – she regularly swam Tenaya Lake even after hikes that tired out the rest of us.

Dee – always prepared for anything (and I do mean ANYTHING), she also regularly hosted the whole crew. The Queen of Hearts, she was the best Hearts player of the bunch.

Susan – Tinker Bell of the Mountains, she hikes the park like it’s her own backyard. She exhibits an inner peace that reflects only kindness to friend and stranger alike.

Woodlee – Tent Master (he can solve almost any camping equipment problem) and the most networked of us all. He seems to know someone no matter where he goes.

Jim – Pathfinder (a self-deprecating title I applied to myself many years ago as I all-too-often have found myself headed off-trail) I am grateful that I had the opportunity to share a wonderful five weeks with such talented and kind-hearted people. Mid-way through my service, I swore I would not do this again due to the length of the commitment. Time will tell whether I honor my oath. During the last week, time slipped away like sand through my fingertips. The joys far outweighed the inconveniences.

And saving for one of my favorite photos for last...Half Dome.

And saving one of my favorite photos for last…Half Dome.

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