Yosemite, Part Eight
- Number 26 on my life list.

Part 8 
Snow Creek
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It’s hard to get out of bed before sunrise, even when you know you have to. But what about when you don't have to? The forest was still blue and shadowless.  I could have stayed asleep. My body definitely lobbied for more sleep, but I got up anyway. When this is the first decision you make in the morning, you know the day isn't ordinary.

When I was seven, all it took to get me out of bed was the promise of Saturday morning cartoons and a bowl of Mr. T Cereal. Today it was my addiction to moments like last night. It lured me back over the spine of North Dome to wait for the sunrise, even though the wind blew cold streaks of yawning tears across my cheeks. 

At the top, I sat on a large flat rock. My back straight, my feet pulled up in front of me. My silhouette was halfway between the statue of the young meditative Buddha, and sadly, the version with the big proud belly. I soothed my tired eyes by clenching them shut and rolling them against my eyelids. And sometimes keeping them closed, while breathing in deep. 

There was no sound, like being underwater. At home silence makes me anxious. I turn on the TV, as though silence is something to be eradicated. At work, the monotonous hum of the factory floor outside my office goes silent when the shift ends, and I turn on music. I don’t know why it’s different now, but it is. The silence here doesn't make me feel like something is missing, rather something significant has been added to the scene. Turning on that noise now would seem like graffiti on the side of Half Dome. 

When the sun came up, it didn’t turn the sky to bright pink, orange, or red. It simply faded to a brighter blue with a golden halo around the sun. For those living and working in the valley, I’m sure it was ordinary. I wonder what it's like to be able to call this ordinary? 

Back at my camp, I slipped inside my sleeping bag to get warm. I oscillated between sleep and wakefulness. The tent slowly turned into a solar oven in the late morning sun. I unzipped the door to let a cool breeze in.

Ants crawled along the huge log just outside my tent. I was back in the micro-world of the trees again. Each with its own ridges, peaks, and valleys. Every trunk a world inhabited by monsters. Ant armies gather to battle winged beasts ten times their size. Eight-legged captors in fields of sticky webs sit motionless, biding their time. The ants disappear under shingles of bark and into wooden tunnels perhaps tending to food stores or fertilized eggs. I wonder what kinds of cities they have built around here. There was evidence that bear claws had shredded part of the log in a search for grubs. How does it look, from the ant’s point of view, when an entire neighborhood is destroyed by one swipe of that hulking leviathan? 

While floating in prosaic routine back home, it’s so easy for me to get bored. How is that possible? I want to tell that version of me to quit being so pathetic, to get up and just look around. There is always something amazing happening. 

I romanticize nature. There is no denying it.  And if you are reading this, I suspect you already know that. I often wonder, though, how I would do on a long hike. A really long hike. When I was a young boy, my grandpa told me of a lawyer who quit his job to hike the Appalachian Trail. He told me that he walked so long and so far that he had to keep buying new shoes in order to finish. I remember thinking, "Wow, imagine going on a walk for so long that you had to stop off for more shoes!" My boyhood imagination pictured a pyramid of worn out shoes piled up on a floor somewhere. Would I still romanticize nature after something like that? 

My grandpa’s story had certainly planted a seed. I thought about that lawyer a lot over the years. I’ve had many moments where I wanted to head out my front door and just walk until I couldn’t walk anymore. How far could I get? What story would I have to tell by the end of it?

Every nature-loving backpacker has their own romanticized stories. But it's a lie if any of them say they have no stories of frustration or discomfort. On a walk so long that I wear out my shoes, would the forest become another banal routine that I would get bored with? Could I actually get tired of watching the sun rise over a valley? Would I spend more time romanticizing the lives of ants, or cursing the lives of ticks and mosquitoes?

Still I wonder, if a week alone in Yosemite could alter my outlook so much, what would several months do? 

The afternoon certainly had its share of aches and irritations. Since last night, the temperature rose forty degrees. I spent much of the day without any shade. My skin burned red, demanding to be taken out of the sun. My sunscreen sat somewhere at home in Indiana. I triple-checked my pack before leaving, but still managed to forget it. Water would be scarce for a few miles this morning as well, so I conserved, compounding my discomfort. 

At the spur trail to Indian Rock, I nearly decided to skip it to shorten my time in the sun. The rock is a granite arch, commonly seen in sandstone, but rare for granite. I’m glad I didn’t let my discomfort get the better of me. When you have a chance to see something rare and beautiful, its a good general rule to always take it.

As I walked, I stared at the trail passing under me. Images of condensation dripping from a glass of ice water flashed in my brain. Airplane noise polluted the silent forest, as it had for most of the day. I didn’t realize just how thunderous it was until the moment it stopped. I stopped too. I shut my eyes and just listened. The reversed image of the passing trail had burned into my retinas. On the back of my eyelids, it looked like trillions of stars were being sucked into a black hole. Snow Creek hissed on my left, but out of sight. A soft wind glided across my ears. I binaurally listened to the faint songs of birds. A resonance so beautiful it almost seems impossible that they were emanating from delicate beings that could sit in the palm of my hand. 

The airplane noise came back. The peaceful moment ceased for now. 

The sound of Snow Creek grew louder and louder as the afternoon progressed. The discomfort from today melted away when I saw it cascading over rocks with plenty of shade. Behind the cascades, I could see a clearing in the woods. I walked back and found a great place to setup camp. A large flat boulder sat near a fire pit, ideal for my sleeping pad and book. The creek filled the air with a relaxing hiss and gurgle. 

Maybe I could finish a really long, multiple-pairs-of-shoes, hike. There are discomforts of course, but they are always temporary. And it takes so little from nature to turn my mood around. Such as lying on a flat stone with the trees towering overhead, reading a good book in their shade, and sipping on all the cold water I could drink.

It was another late night before turning in. I broke a dead branch of pine into small pieces. Many dried needles still clung to it like thin brown leaches. The fire loved this like kerosene and roared with demented delight every time I threw a piece in. It was my last Yosemite campfire. Tomorrow I’d head back to the valley. I felt that foreboding back home in Indiana feeling. It's alright though. I didn't know it then, but my week in Yosemite wasn't finished altering my outlook.

Part 9 >
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