The septuagenarian’s Swisher Sweet curled blue smoke under the brim of his trucker’s hat. He pensively exhaled, and the early-morning sun caught the cloud’s varied thickness as it laid itself across the edge of the blank parking lot and pooled into the fir trees. He was staring slightly upwards, as though making a study of the fir, but the direction of his stare hadn’t changed in minutes.
A woman of his age picked her way across the strait of dirt and nettles between Route 120 and the lot, keeping her eyes focused on where her feet fell. When she had safely sturdied herself on the asphalt, she looked up at the man she already knew was there.
He didn’t answer, didn’t react at all.
“OK, John…well, I’m here. Sorry to disturb you.”
“I know how you like your mornings.”
John continued to stare upwards into the fir.
The woman picked her way back onto the strait and carefully seated herself on the bus bench. She varied her gaze between John, the early sun, and her hands clasped tidily on her lap. Several minutes passed.
The sleek coach bus to Yosemite pulled up from the other end of the parking lot. The two met at the bus’ door and boarded together, me the third.
It was the morning of John’s 76th birthday.
I was about to fucking give up. The trail’s innumerable remaining switchbacks loomed over me like a never-ending staircase. The switchbacks were on a steep slope full of giant fir trees strung between two sheer, orange cliff faces, and I could see people slowly pinging back and forth between the rock walls above me, barely ascending with each cross. The people eventually disappeared from sight, but they were obviously not at the top.
I had been climbing for two-and-a-half hours at this point. The vertical ascent for Upper Yosemite Falls was 3,000 feet, the lateral distance only 3.4 miles. I had brought two liters of water, which seemed like more than enough for someone who often went an entire day without aqua, but I was almost through both. Each time I stopped to swig some, I tried to conserve, but my body compulsively forced me to pull water down my desiccated throat as quickly as possible until I gurgled “STOP” and ripped the mouth of the container away from my lips. It was 90 degrees out.
There was a rock overhang that produced few inches of shade at one of the switchbacks, and I pathetically molded myself under it, pulling my limbs up to my chest to get them out of the scalding heat.
While wondering how long I had to live, I heard a skittering above me, and who should come gleefully bounding down the trail but a dude who must’ve been 70. He was shirtless, and his leathery skin sagged off his hard, sinewy body that looked like it had been welded out of iron. There was not an ounce of fat on him.
He turned up the trail to his younger compatriot, who still probably had thirty years on me.
“Well, looks like we just have a little stroll to the bottom from here.”
“Yep, looks like it.”
“This climb wasn’t all too bad. I hadda little more trouble with the one this morning.”
“Certainly heating up now, though.”
“Sure is. Well, we just got this little descent…”
“Then up to Half Dome!”
…and they bounced back off.
The squirrel stared at the Park Ranger and her bagel with doleful, unblinking eyes. He feigned slightly to the left, then jerked a couple paces forward.
“Go AWAY,” the park ranger emphatically ordered. She tossed a bit of dirt at him, but it fell to the squirrels right, and he didn’t budge.
“GIT,” the Ranger stated more forcefully, then arched a loop of water at him from the sports-cap of her Aquafina bottle. Part of the loop landed on the squirrel’s tail, and he whirled around to see what the distraction was, then just continued whirling to his original position. The two stared at each other.
“Man, the squirrels around here sure are ‘friendly.’”
The Park Ranger gave me a wide, pure grin.
“That’s one word for it, another is ‘annoying.’
The squirrel continued to eyeball the Ranger.
“Yeah,” I continued flirtatiously. “I saw all the signs informing us not to feed to animals.”
“You HAVEN’T been doing that, right?”
“Oh, nono. Though I’ve kinda wanted too…I’ve restrained myself, though.”
“OK.” She smiled again. “Because then THIS happens.”
“Persistent little bugger.”
“Oh, you don’t know the half of it.” She narrowed her eyes at her adversary.
I continued on and then noticed something. I had been attracted to nearly every (female) Park Ranger I had come into contact with. It made perfect sense. They all were super-fit and healthy and didn’t wear make-up or straighten their hair or any of that bullshit I hated. They loved nature and hiking. They were earthy and laid-back:
I wanna date a Park Ranger.
The grossly obese father & son were slopped over the top of a thin wooden bench, their ursine arms exposed to the shoulder. Their dimpled fists clutched tall boys of Bud, the kind with American flag patterns slapped across the aluminum. There were another couple tall boys readied between them. The son looked like a teenager.
“Hay! Look there! Izzzz STEVE!” The wasted father surfaced out of his inebriation to stick his finger towards a park ranger in his late twenties. “Hay Steve!”
The ranger regretfully turned with a clenched smile. He had almost made it past them.
“Hey guys. How’s it goin?”
“Hay Steve!”—the son now—“Hot enough for ya? Huh-huh-huh-huhhuhhuhhuh.”
“Yeeeah…sure is hot,” Steve responded. “There’s a heat advisory out, actually.”
“Yup, yup.”—the father—“Wul, we stayin cool with these Buuuds here.”
“Yeah, I can see that,” Steve squinted. “Be careful about that…not really supposed to be too drunk in the park.”
“Aw, c’mon STEEEEVE.”—the son— “Y’aint gonna get us in trouble?”
“No guys, just, y’know, keep it under control.”
“Well, I gotta be goin now. On the clock and all.”
…and Steve spurted away.
The Mist Trail descended down from John Muir Trail and passed up close to Vernal Fall. The fall moved more water than any I had ever seen, gushing tens of thousands of gallons a second over its edge. The thick load of water atomized as it crested, dissolving into fine streams and spray. The fall started slow, then accelerated with gravity as it fell, atomizing further, until it reached near the surface of the river, where it slowed again, like the onramp of cars reaching a crowded highway. Most of the water struck the surface of the river as though it was solid and exploded and cometed off at angles like roman candles.
Much of the spray plumed off the water, swirling upwards to the Mist Trail. The pure, icy particles rolled onto my skin, spiking through the oily layer of sunscreen and sweat. I craned my head over the edge of the trail, and saw that the mist created a leprechaun-worthy rainbow, the ends meeting the dark-emerald moss and wet ferns.
One thought on “Scenes from Yosemite—Pt. I”
Ah you are in yosemite, or disney woods as we used to call em; and all the characters are out signing figurative autographs. You can drink the water from the top of yosemite falls trail bu the way. Enjoy granite city!