Day 7: Cooking, Biking, and Sketching
My alarm is set for 5:40am. My first job in the morning is to put two pots of coffee on the stove. We promise our volunteers coffee by 6:15, and breakfast by 7. My eyes open at 5:25. The sun is already up but hasn’t started to warm the floor of the valley yet. From my tent, it is about a thousand feet to the vault toilet, and then another thousand feet back to the bear locker where my toothbrush and toothpaste are stored. Then about twenty feet to the hand washing station set up near the kitchen.
The menu for today’s breakfast is bacon and French toast. Mary Lou takes charge of the bacon. I am in charge of the French toast. I crack ten eggs into a stainless steel bowl the size of a restaurant wok. Our supplies are stored inside a trailer which is dark at this time of day. We are still not totally familiar with the contents of the five different coolers with perishable items, so I am often opening and closing all five before I locate the one ingredient I need.
I remember the first time I ate a hot meal cooked at a group campsite, using real silverware and a tablecloth. I felt so lucky to have someone cook for me while I camped! It was five years earlier in Tuolumne Meadows, on our first Yosemite Conservancy volunteer work week. And now, here I was, wearing the navy blue apron with the Yosemite Conservancy logo on the front, firing up the propane stoves, dipping thick-sliced Texas toast into the egg-and-milk batter, and ringing the bell that signaled to everyone to “come and get it!”. I am happy as a clam.
My duties end at around 8am, and I am asked to meet up with Mary Lou again at around one, to make another trip to Yosemite Lodge to fill in our missing ingredients for tonight. I am eager to get on my bike and start painting in the meadows.
First stop is Swinging Bridge. The pedestrians don’t start showing up until 9 or so, which gives me a few minutes of relative peace to set up my stool and start painting.
As I am completing the third color or so, the crowds begin to come. A few bikes ride over the bridge, just behind me. I feel the rumbling of the planks below me, and my hand gets bumped around the page. I hear voices of both adults and children, shouting across the length of the bridge, from the bridge to the water below, and all around me. Suddenly I have to work hard to focus on the subject in front of me – the rippled surface of the water with the perfect reflection of the trees in it. The massive chunk of granite with the sliver of water tumbling from top to bottom. Behind and on either side of me, the sounds could have been coming from any shopping mall in America.
I pack up my things and get back on my bike. I continue on the path which leads behind Yosemite Lodge, across the Valley Loop road, and in front of Yosemite Falls. I reach the meadow with its unobstructed views of the Upper Yosemite Falls. I am on a boardwalk, alone. It is quiet.
I have never given myself the time, space, or stillness to really look at the granite face on either side of Yosemite Falls. To study the rock, to follow its lines, shadows, colors, curves, and crags. I take out my water soluble graphite crayon, a 9-inch by 12-inch sketchbook, and take the time. I allow my eye to follow the lines in the rock, and my hand to move across the page. It is easy to get lost. I start at the top, with the general contours of the rock where it meets sky. I quickly reach the edge of the page. I begin to have fun when I just marvel at it rather than trying to recreate or depict anything that I am seeing.
The smoothness of the graphite against the page is pleasing. I am undisturbed by any passers-by. I finish the line work and take out my water brush, and begin finding areas of shadow or darkness. Again, it is easy to get lost in all the intricacies of the rock as I stare at the wall.
I opted for no bacon this morning, so I am feeling pangs of hunger. It is after eleven, and already time for me to eat my packed lunch of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I head back to our campground, where I can sit in the shade and work on my daily journal drawing.
Our afternoon outing includes a stop at the Yosemite Lodge as well as grocery shopping at the Yosemite Village Store, which has a surprisingly large selection of food items. I buy a bag of potato chips, a six-pack of Belgian wheat beer, and some ice for our personal cooler, as temperatures are already soaring into the low 100’s. Mary Lou is filling in gaps in her ingredient list: mayonnaise, dijon mustard, Italian sausage, black beans, frozen orange juice.
Tonight’s dinner menu is ambitious: fish tacos (with cod filets Mary Lou brought from Pacific Grove’s Trader Joe’s, seasoned with cajun spices and pan grilled), cabbage lime “slaw”, crema (sour cream with lime zest and juice), corn tortillas, black bean and corn salad, and Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill Southwestern Potato Salad (yes, you want to click on the link to the recipe and make this at home!).
I am in charge of the potato salad and cabbage slaw. The key ingredient, which I had not used before, is chipotle pepper puree. Combining this with mayo, along with the salsa-like ingredients, gives the potato salad a complexity and kick that is beyond your typical backyard barbecue side dish.
I am also surprised at the simplicity of the cabbage slaw. Just salt, pepper, and lime juice over shredded fresh cabbage. Let sit, and enjoy with the lime juice flavored sour cream for the perfect fish taco topping.
Dessert is pound cake topped with fresh sliced strawberries and whipped cream. Everyone manages to make room for it, despite the generous portions and explosion of flavors at dinner.
The best part about this job is having a crew of people to wash all the dishes afterwards. We are having fun!
See the entire Yosemite sketch and story series here.