A trip to Yosemite reminded us how seldom we ventured into the wild. We had to dig through our drawers to find our winter wear, shop for new sturdy boots, and we needed chains. We used to ski at Squaw Valley almost every weekend in Winter, often stopping during a snow storm to put on chains. The snow sometimes piled up 20 feet against the houses, we skied through 40-to-60 mile an hour blizzards, our faces bitten by the cold wind, our eyelashes and facial hair thick with ice drops, and our fingers and toes burned from the cold. Those times were as wild as I've ever been.
I've been reading The Wild Places by Robert MacFarlane, who set out over a couple of years to find the wild places in Ireland and England. He swam in icy waters, hiked and slept through blizzards, trudged to the tops of mountains where he felt the indifference of the natural world to his solitary existence. Yet, everywhere he went, he walked where others had been walking for centuries. He finally discovered a truly wild place when he looked down a gryke on the Burren in Ireland. A gryke, a word I had never heard before, is a crack in limestone. Lying flat, staring down into the gryke, MacFarlane saw a wild world where seedlings had drifted and competed for space in a miniature rain forest. His glimpse of that world reminded me of a valley near Mt. Herman in the Santa Cruz Mountains. On one side of the steep hills was a camp bustling with people. But walking down a winding trail, I emerged in a rain forest filled with a rushing creek, tall redwoods, ferns, and other vegetation that grew with vigor under the tall trees' canopy -- a wild place.
I have friends and relatives who often seek the wild: women who ride motorcycles, hike along the Pacific Coast trail, climb Half Dome, kayak in deep water, and walk in Shackleton's footsteps in Antarctica. They push themselves beyond their anxiety. Skiing in the Sierra often reached that deep spot inside me where fear originated. Each time I ventured out on a blustery day, my subconscious would conjure up the image of a 5-year old girl stranded in the middle of an ice rink, ripe with dread, not knowing how to move with grace, expecting to fall and hurt myself. After what seemed a long time, with the help of a kind stranger, I made it over to the rink's edge. Skiing was like that. I had many miserable times out in the snow, standing frozen in fear until the cold would force me to turn down the mountain. But I didn't stop skiing either. I kept practicing. Eventually, with great joy, I could shimmy down moguls as tall as I am and could ski down all the runs at Squaw except the West Face of KT22. I tried that once. I stood at the top of the run and looked down. My skis hung over the edge, the mountain leaned in on itself underneath. That first step was too much for me and I turned and went down the easier East side. Sometimes you have to know when to back away.
We often live in fear: fear of the other, fear of the unknown, fear of the wild and fear of our own shortcomings. Being out in the wild, in the snowstorms, on steep mountain trails pushed me as far as I am ever likely to go, but I am a better person for trying.
Some people have destinations on their Bucket List. My list includes this first one: being in the wild once more. So, we trekked to Yosemite in our car equipped with chains (that we didn't use), with our new boots, our ski hats and gloves, and warm coats. We were greeted by the sunset on the top of El Capitan, by the quiet, snow-laden valley, by a managed wild place that is enjoyed by so many that there are signs to stay off the meadow to protect the native grasses from being trampled. Another sign stood tall to indicate the height of flood waters in the valley. Away from people, we could hear the crash-boom of huge blocks of snow that cascaded down the sheer cliffs. The sound echoed through the valley like an explosion, reminding us that we were also standing in an unmanaged wild place.
Does the wild tempt you?
This week's post is dedicated to Fred Korematsu, an American of Japanese descent, who challenged Federal Order 9066 during World War II. He wasn't afraid to stand tall in his beliefs.