Back on the mountain after my spring break gallivanting, time was winding down. My job went until the beginning of June, and the damp spring was quickly drying into summer heat. The students were no longer hoping for a freak snowstorm, and the leaves and flowers were jostling for space in the ever crowding undergrowth.
In May, I took a trip to Yosemite National Park to celebrate the birthday of my good friend Matt. We’ve been friends since elementary school, and the fact that I now live less than an hour from him has been one of the best parts about working in California. It was just a weekend trip, but Yosemite was a sort of Mecca that had been eluding my attempts of pilgrimage.
Joining me on this trip was someone that I’ve been miserably tardy in introducing. Meet Jenn:
She’s got brains. She’s got a drive for adventure. She’s doesn’t take any nonsense, and she’s got a sense of humor that keeps me on my toes. We met at my job, Arrowhead Ranch, and she taught me everything I needed to know about being a science teacher for inner city middle schoolers up on a mountain. Some of it I even remembered.
Our story will unfold more as time goes on, but for now what you need to know is this: I’m crazy about her, and we were spending close to every waking hour together at this point. So as my personal pronouns switch from the singular “I” to the plural “we,” don’t be alarmed.
The two of us took the van on the long drive up to the middle of the state, arriving (as has become my custom) in the middle of the night. This time, the pitch black roads were crowded with coniferous growth that funneled my headlights onto the narrow, snaking path in front of me. As we entered the Yosemite Valley we were greeted by a fog that broke in gentle waves over the windshield. Having a second person in the car certainly helped ease the eeriness that was so palpable when I drove through Zion.
We made into the campsite late, and crashed. The next morning, I woke in the wee hours when the grey light was just starting to pale the foggy air. Having an urgent need to use the bathroom, I opened the van door and blinked in the bleary forest. Too sleepy even to grab my glasses, I shambled towards the facilities when a cawing crow caused me to glace upwards. I stopped still and squinted. Was that a massive cloud that I was seeing? With all the clouds and fog around me, I wasn’t sure – but there was a huge grey mass that soared over the trees. A well-timed breeze cleared the air for just long enough for me to take in the gargantuan granite face that rose hulking above the pine forest around me. I rubbed my eyes, but the clouds rolled back, and I was zoomed back in to my little forest. Shaking my head, I went about my business and crawled back into bed.
A few hours later, my early morning vision was confirmed. We were staying at the Upper Pines campground, and the granite bluff I had been stunned by was the backside of Sentinel Dome.
Though the clouds were inhibiting some of the more sweeping views, we were still able to see some beautiful sights. Yosemite Falls was a great hike, if a little damp. On the way out, I stopped through the famous Camp 4, a historic rock climbing hang out. I tried doing some bouldering in the area, but intermittent rain kept most of the rocks too wet to climb safely.
It was comforting to be here with Matt. He and I essentially grew up together, and had spent regrettably little time in each others company since freshman year of college, after we were roommates for a semester. I transferred schools, and life gets in the way. Nonetheless, we kept in touch over the years. This year is big for Matt. He's earning a PhD, getting married, and dealing with a huge amount of family stress as well. He chose this weekend to go camping and celebrate his birthday, but it was as important for him to clear his head as well. As the best man in his upcoming wedding, I felt like keeping his head clear was part of my job as well. So I brought some beer.
The next day was a little clearer, and we hiked out to Mirror Lake, a manmade but beautiful place, where the mountains reflect on the water. On the way out, we witnessed a deer walking delicately out into the river in front of us. Our group huddled on the shore nearby, whispering and taking pictures. One member of the team wanted his picture with the deer in the background, so he sat up on a rock and we lined up the photo. Just before the photo was taken, the deer raised its tail and unleashed an impressive jetstream of urine into the river. It was a memorable photo.
On the way back from Mirror Lake, I happened to see a couple with University of Minnesota clothes on. As I leaned over to Jenn to point them out, I realized that these were a couple of friends of mine from High School! Shout-out to John and Laura if you’re reading this! It was great to see you guys.
Unfortunately, we had only the weekend to spend, and were soon coasting back south to our (comparatively) little mountain. With the trip behind us, there was precious little time left in California. My plan was to drive back to the Midwest for the summer, so I wanted to use my remaining time in the sunshine state as best as I could.
We made a visit to San Diego, which was immediately the most attractive city that I’ve ever been to. The weather, which is always perfect, was especially perfect. The greenery about the city was wild growing and varied. The farmer’s markets were crunchy granola-filled, and the breweries were exactly on my page. If we’re enumerating life goals, living in San Diego has been added to the list. We visited beaches, had scrumptious brunches, and were generally delighted by hippy millennial things.
Before leaving, we stopped through a place called Balboa Park. They have a great artists' area, the Spanish Village, within the park. It's a series of studios filled to the brim with creations of clay, wood, paint, wire, plaster, and whatever else people could use to create. It's beautiful, and if I had lifetimes of money to spend, I'd decorate houses and houses with the art that we saw there.
I had a couple of great weeks of teaching, which really made me love that I had spent almost 6 months here. It was hard to believe that much time had passed so quickly, but comforting that it was time well spent.
There was one afternoon that perfectly encapsulated my experience teaching. I had a group of boys for the week that were pretty uninterested in school, and science in particular. I had to make deals with them, letting them play basketball if they behaved on the hikes. But one afternoon, the weather was absolutely perfect, and I couldn't bear to let it go to waste inside of a gym. So I convinced them to go out to a pond that we have on the campground. Frogs were just watching, and there were hundreds of tiny Spring Peepers hopping everywhere. Stepping closer to the pond, you could see masses and masses of wriggling tadpoles jostling for space. Animal tracks dotted the mud, and we even found a pair of duck eggs.
An hour passed before I realized that the boys had been completely engrossed in the natural beauty around us. I was sitting on a dock, explaining why tadpoles turn into frogs, with the sun warming my face and not a cloud in the gorgeous mountain sky. A goldfinch flew overhead, and one of the taller boys across the pond shrieked as a frog escaped from his cupped palms. I paused in the middle of my explanation and took it all in. I smiled, and realized that I would miss the moments like this.
Coming soon: what happens after California? STAY TUNED Y'ALL.