Yosemite Series: Day Twelve

Day 12: Heading Home From Home

As a group, we have agreed to meet at Yosemite Lodge (now called “Yosemite Valley Lodge”) for breakfast at eight. We are all up by six thirty, disassembling our tents, folding up our sleeping bags, stuffing things back into our cars. The return to civilization begins.

We have six coolers plus about a dozen milk crates to return to the Yosemite Conservancy, filled with unused cooking ingredients. A few of the volunteers are sitting around talking, and I say, “We could use some help loading the van, if anyone is available.” Instantly, all four of them pop up from their chairs, and we have the car loaded within ten minutes. Again, the enthusiasm and willingness are what I will miss most about being with these people.

It is amazing to me that in these few short days, it has become more natural to live in a tent, sleeping on the ground, with dirt on my legs and under my fingernails, than the way we live at home. This feels, in many ways, more like Home than the home we live in. I want to seal up this feeling and remember it.

There are eleven of us at breakfast, and we all manage to squeeze into one of the long tables by the window at Yosemite Lodge. The offerings here are good, but nothing like what Mary Lou and I concocted from our wells of creativity and love of food. Within a few minutes of finishing our meals, we begin to peel off from the table, to head our separate ways. Hugs all around. Plans for next year being verbalized already. Wishes for safe trips home for everyone, heading as far as South Carolina, Oregon, and southern California.

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As Randy and I drive out of the park, I keep in my mind that I am exiting only for now. I have accumulated stories and experiences of people who have managed to create lives of service while living within the boundaries of national parks. I remember a vision I had on one of my first volunteer trips at Yosemite: I want to live here for any entire year…to see all the seasons happen here.

This time, I leave with an even more realistic picture of that happening for me soon. I have fallen more deeply in love with natural spaces, and become more curious about how this love can be translated into the kind of stewardship our national parks call for. While I cannot tell another person, let alone the general public, how to love a place, I can share my own discoveries widely. I can tell the stories of what I have learned about stewardship. I can hope to convey the importance of seeing some spaces as sacred, which I now define as being protected from consumption or pure entertainment. I can model a way of relating to nature that is something other than expecting stimulation, resolution, and thrills. The gifts of pristine nature, for me, are her openness and infinite presence, without any need to engage at the pace of the human mind. When I breathe amongst the trees, and behold the flowing of a stream into a waterfall and into a river, I connect to a much larger rhythm than could come from my own thoughts.

We make more stops than usual on our way home. I am trying to prolong the trip for as long as possible. We fill up the gas tank in Oakdale. But we also stop for ice cream at Baskin Robbins, and split a French dip sandwich at Ferrarese’s Deli. Behind and above Randy’s left shoulder as he sits across from me at Ferrarese’s is a small, black-and-white, framed photograph of Yosemite Falls, taken from Cook’s Meadow. I notice that the water in the falls is wide and pure white, completely covering a cone-shaped area of rock that is now bare, visibly stained from previous years’ water. The photo reminds me that the water levels are part of a longer cycle. I wonder when and if I will see Yosemite Falls return to the level of flow in the photo during my lifetime.

The idea for this blog comes to me when I return home and realize that it will be all too easy to add my sketchbooks to the growing pile of journals and sketchbooks in my art-making space at home. There are treasures to mine, and the time to act is when the memories are fresh.

I have made the commitment to spend the month of September 2016, as an artist-in-residence at Gettysburg National Park. Having applied twice to the National Parks Arts Foundation program, and having twice been named a finalist, I decide to invest in myself and trust my desire. My project in Gettysburg will have some similarities to my Yosemite sketching project: I commit to making art, on location, every day of my journey. I also commit to collecting stories, which I will capture both visually and in words.

Gettysburg is a place I will be visiting for the first time. I have been reading every illustrated book I can find on the battle of Gettysburg, on Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, and on Gettysburg’s place in the Civil War. What I plan to explore is how art can be a vehicle for seeing one place from contrasting perspectives (representational versus abstract, ink drawing versus acrylic painting, physically locating oneself in contrasting positions in a landscape). The ability to hold paradox, and to navigate the space within conflict without destroying either side or taking one extreme, is a skill I believe we as a society, especially at this current time, can practice more. I intend to play with demonstrating this through visual art.

My overall feelings having completed this journey and this blog project are gratitude and awe. I am both grateful and amazed at the new people who have taken the time to view my artwork and read my stories. I treasure this experience even more now that I have spent these past twelve days reliving some of the moments through writing.

I have received some comments on Facebook about putting together a Yosemite Valley campground cook book based on my adventures over the past five volunteer work weeks. A great idea — and here is the 2016 menu as a start:

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I hope you have enjoyed this series and I look forward to creating and sharing more from my Wild Tomato Arts practice!

See the entire Yosemite sketch and story series here.

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