WHERE IS YOSEMITE?

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BY JOELLEN COLLINS

JoEllen Collins—a longtime resident of the Wood River Valley—is a teacher, writer, fabric artist, choir member and unabashedly proud grandma known as “Bibi Jo.”

Most of us know where Yosemite is, bordered by two national forests, the Sierra and the Stanislaus. We cannot know whether it will remain as it is or if it may ultimately be a site of deep ash. I am chipper about my own personal life and grateful for my health and relative longevity, but, along with the passing of friends and family, I mourn for so many of the beautiful places I visited as a child and may never be able to enjoy again.

Even while I recognize the painful history of displacement of Native Americans, I appreciate that farsighted leaders like Teddy Roosevelt, John Muir and Woodrow Wilson preserved the gift of national parks for future generations. While I haven’t visited many, I cherish the thought that they are still there, if not for me, for my descendants. I have seen but not touched enough the beauty of Yellowstone and Glacier, though now Yellowstone may be changed in not-so-subtle ways by recent flooding and, in time, the human deluge which rapidly thickens.

I grew up in a time when my family and my uncle and older cousins could drive to Yosemite without reservations or heavy traffic and set up our modest camp right by the river’s edge. We slept under the stars and once I awoke in my sleeping bag during a mild earthquake. I heard and saw the very tall sequoia vigorously shaking above, but I wasn’t afraid; in my childish way, I was comforted by being in that place at that time.

In Yosemite, my mother and I would arise early and stroll to Mirror Lake, where we shared coffee (hers straight, mine just a spoonful and a shake of sugar in a cup of warm milk) and felt as close as possible in that peace, beauty and quiet. I still recall the ritual of morning coffee with her, there and at home, and recreate the sweet taste on my own with each sunrise.

Several years ago, I had a beau who loved to fish, and we would travel into the park, walk a hillside trail along the banks of the Merced River, and catch large-mouth bass. No one else was near, and the swish of the roaring water the only sound. That activity ended, but I prefer to remember the thrill of that beautiful place rather than the pain of that particular relationship.

When I see Yosemite — a vital remaining site of numerous endangered or vanished species and vegetation — threatened by wildfires, I bewail what we are doing not just to ourselves but to the flora and fauna entrusted to us. In my later years, with many national parks still on my bucket list, I feel fortunate that in Yosemite I got to experience those fresh scents, the vivid and smog-less sky, the magnificent trees, and the gentle sound of the nearby river. I treasure those memories even with my sorrow at saying goodbye to that special place of my youth. I pray for its conservation.

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