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The last light on Half Dome

I dream of the day that the constant barrage of difficulties have disappeared, or at least trickled to one a week, and I can write about exploring the national parks without them peppered into my story.  When it is just me and the way that I interpret the nature that surrounds me.  Maybe today will be the first day…

One blessing that I have received for as long as memory serves is that at some point in the day a surge of optimism moves me to take a hold of my inner strength and keep going forward.  A clear thought that the current chapter is closing and the new one is beginning.  My eyes brighten, my lips curl into a smile, my head clears and I am ready to begin whatever is next.  I am anxious to find out what this precious life will bring and to live it to the fullest.

Yesterday I awoke with my right eye nearly swollen shut, the whole side of my face red and puffy, except where there were stripes of agony running down my eyelid.  Despite all of the cool Technu baths, the Calamine lotion, the Benadryl and making every effort to keep my skin cool and dry, the poison oak was marching on without further exposure to its oils.  Areas that had healed were once again red and itchy, my leg was swollen and redder than ever and the itching had brought me to the point of desperation.  One can take almost anything for a week or two but nearly three weeks later, and with no sign of healing and no hope for relief, I was worn down and reduced to tears.

I went back into the valley and, despite the complications I’ve had in the past, begged them to let me try the steroids.  This was not an easy decision but the time had come when the risks were worth getting rid of the rash.  The discussion was one of much thought and compromise before I was finally given a low dose of prednisone.  My body was trembling terribly from the shock of the poison and I wasn’t sure that I would be able to function for the rest of the day.  But, several hours later, and a whole lot of anti-itching cream and my body had settled down and was beginning to relax.

View from near Glacier Point.

It was on the impromptu drive to Glacier point, before seeing the view of the entire valley and back country, that my blessing arrived.  This time when I told myself that everything was going to be all right, it felt like the truth.  I felt completely sure that a corner had been turned and at last I would fully enjoy the splendor of the granite walls before me.

At Glacier Point it was startling to see Half Dome so close that it felt as if it were possible to reach out and kiss its face.  I wanted to wrap my arms on the granite and do just that, kiss the cool surface.  A menagerie of perfect clouds filled the sky, filtering the afternoon light as it skipped across the landscape.  As I learned to do in Zion, I ventured close to a ledge in order to see more but with a healthy dose of caution and fear.  There were so many years, when going through medical difficulties, and other things, that I simply trudged and didn’t care what happened to me.  But when I began to take writing more seriously and then discovered photography, all of that began to dissolve and my prayers changed to please don’t let me die before I see all of the beauty of the national parks.

There are so many wonderful places in the world, landscapes that I cannot imagine, and for some time I have been trying to define why the parks were so important and my question was answered a few weeks ago.  I’ve always had this somewhat odd sense that life should be fair and that everyone should have the same opportunities.  Hard to tell where that came from and it does not matter but the feelings are embedded in my psyche and I will most likely pass on with the desire for fairness lodged deep into my soul.

When the national parks were born they were meant for the enjoyment of everyone.  If the federal government had not taken the action of dedicating these treasures their resources would have been destroyed and what was not would have been purchased by the very rich for their personal enjoyment, or for resorts that the majority of us can not afford.  It was important to me that someone like myself could leave the city and wander into pristine forests filled with wild animals that had nothing to fear.  That I could stand on Glacier Point, right alongside anyone else and enjoy that view, knowing that it would still be there for my grandchildren.

While the parks are preserved for us, there is still the element of fancy lodges and over priced meals and souvenirs that not everyone can afford.  The difference between those who sleep in luxury and those who struggle for gas money and camping gear in order to visit a national park.  I am not complaining, not at all, but would be remiss if not telling the entire story of what I see.  Some may have other thoughts and ideas – these are my own.  The tents in Housekeeping Camp and Curry Village in Yosemite go for more than $100 a night, while rooms at the Awahnee rent for upwards of $1000.  Campsites are $20 at most campgrounds during the season, $10 for people with an access pass or for seniors.  I would much rather spend $10 to enjoy the experience of truly being in nature.  I’d rather eat peanut butter celery than to spend $50 on a meal or trinket, but that is just me.

View of Yosemite Falls and the Valley from Glacier Point

Up there at Glacier Point the wind was blowing slightly and the air was chilly.  Visitors stood on the viewing platform and stared out in wonder.  Others stood on rocks and made brave poses for the cameras.  There was no lack of enjoyment for anyone, not up there on the top of that granite cliff.

A man saw me folding up my tripod and climbing the rocks up to the platform away from the unfenced edge, and said, “Tell me something…You like a real honest to goodness photographer…”

“I don’t know about the ‘real honest’ part,’ I laughed.

Ironically, he was a criminal defense attorney from Tar Heel country in Chapel Hill, NC and I was a retired cop from Durham, N.C. and so the joke came off well.

He helped me climb down off of a rock, “When can we expect the red glow?”

The attorney was hoping to catch the reverent Alpenglow as it graced the cheeks of Half Dome but decided that it would be too long a wait for his friend.

“That is why I travel alone,” I told him.  “No one would put up with my photography.”

He remarked on how taking photos is a solo adventure and we made some friendly small talk.  His friend came over and quickly glanced at my red leg covered in scabs from the bursting blisters.

“Poison Oak,” I told him.  And he looked up to see my grotesque face.

“That looks really bad,” he said.

I laughed and told him thank you.  The attorney asked how he could see my photos and so I gave him my name, which he wrote down.

“I hate to say this because it sounds arrogant, but you can Google me to see my photographs.”  Many years ago I wrote a story about the Poet Laureate who didn’t have time to give an interview for the small monthly paper I worked for and told me, “Google me, you’ll find out everything you need to know.”  It turned out to be a great story.

My intention was to leave Glacier Point and return to the valley but by the time I got back to my car, I’d decided to stay for sunset.  Luckily I had some warmups to put on over my shorts but it would have been nice to remember hat and gloves.  I’d gone out on the point without my wide angle lens and so decided to strap on the backpack and take all of my gear out to the edge – to an old weathered log that I wanted to use as a foreground element.

By the time I returned a woman had her tripod set up in front of the log but was hand holding her camera and taking shots.  I chose another spot, parallel with her, where I could still capture a portion of the log and settled down to take some my own photos.  It wasn’t long before the sun briefly came out and I realized that my shadow was on the log and so I moved to another position closer to her but not so close that our tripod legs were touching.  There was plenty of room.  Before long she shoved her tripod leg into my frame.  I let her know, thinking that she probably didn’t realize that it was in my way.

“I was here first,” she shouted.  “You didn’t ask if you could be here or say excuse me or anything…I’m shooting with a wide angle and you were in my way.”

Oh boy.  I was shooting with a wider angle and full frame and she had not been in my way until the tripod leg appeared and so I knew that what she said was impossible.

“And then your shadow was on the log.”

“That was why I moved,” I told her.

“I am so sick of rude photographers,” she yelled.  Obviously I was the target of much pent up anger and frustration.  She shoved her tripod further into my way and so I moved forward.

I was almost ready to shoot when she walked out to the ledge and sat in front of my camera.  Fabulous light was passing by.  I took some shots and then she realized that I could still see Half Dome and so she moved over to obstruct that view.  I took some more shots.  She came up to sit directly in front of my tripod.  By this time we had both shouted at each other – I didn’t appreciate being told that I was rude after taking such pains to keep out of her way and to move when I’d noticed the shadow.

“I’m not moving until you apologize,” she shouted.

“For what?”

“For being rude.”  People up on the platform were laughing.  No matter where I moved she followed the front of my lens and so I just kicked back to relax.

“We are missing out on some great light,” I told her.

“I don’t care, I have all night.”  She sat there, she stood, she turned her large rear end into my face, she turned to face me, she folded her arms and made little quips.  There was plenty of room on that rock for several photographers and I am sure that it has been elbow to elbow on many nights, just like it is at The Watchman, The Oxbow, Tunnel View and other famous landmarks.  I became amused by her anger but said nothing because she was obviously very out-of-control and had made up her mind about what I had been doing – ostensibly to purposefully get into her way.

“Finally, I told her that I was returning to my original position and she was free to do what she wanted.  She didn’t want to give it up and stood there for a minute before slowly taking the long way around so that she could be in my way for longer.  There was a crowd watching and she knew that she had to relent.  Returning to her camera and tripod, she shoved the leg further into my view and resumed shooting.  I was thinking about the Content-aware filter.

She did nothing to dampen my experience at Glacier Point – in fact she made it richer.  I saw much of the old me in her, when I would not talk to anyone and would seethe with anger when someone got in my way, instead of politely asking them to move.  Some other, friendly photographers came out onto the rock and we were switching up positions to allow everyone a chance to get the shot that they wanted, while she stood firm in her spot.  Great conversations and laughs and she was forgotten – left standing there in the dark as we returned to our cars.

I proceeded into the valley for some moonlight night shooting of El Capitan and Yosemite Falls.  Several times young photographers walked by and wanted to know my settings, which I freely shared with them.  The itching had begun again but there had been several hours of comfort.  I smathered more cream onto my legs and hiked up to lower Yosemite Falls in the dark.  The spray is intense, making it difficult for photography, and the moon was shining behind some clouds, but it was still breathtaking.

There was no itching during the night and by morning the redness was subdued.  Obviously the medication was beginning to work and so the only thing left to worry about is the after affects of that.  Fortunately some great new camp hosts arrived a few days ago, Pat and BJ, and life in the campground is terrific.  They are helping while I recover from the poison oak.

The full moon is out and the valley never so beautiful.  Yes, the corner has been turned and I felt the true inner spirit of Yosemite for the first time last night.  An easy wildness that would be difficult to define except that at Glacier Point I felt the purity of Yosemite National Park.