Yosemite’s Child

A historical photo of Yosemite from Glacier Point

(The following is a memoir piece I’ve been working on off and on for several years about my family’s annual camping trips to Yosemite in the late 1950s and 1960s)

 In August, my middle class family packed up our ’56 Chevy Bel Air red and white station wagon and left our suburban L.A. home to camp among the cool pines of the Yosemite Valley.  We left in the wee hours of the morning to avoid driving in the oppressive Central Valley heat.  My older brother, Steve, and I would occupy the “way back,” converted into a bed with layers of soft quilts. This functioned as our sleeping and play area. Seat belts were not even thought of back then. There was no digital world in the late 1950s and early 1960s so upon awakening we would occupy ourselves by reading our stash of comic books and Mad Magazines. We would play endless card games of War.  When we were tired of that we would sing folk songs in lively two-part harmony, our parents joining in on “I’ve been working on the Railroad, Suwanee River, Clementine, or our favorite, “the Titanic ”.

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Sawmill Woman- My Story for Women’s History Month

I came of age in the late 1960s/ early 1970s in the Bay Area of California.  It was the age when women started to wake up from their subjugation in the so-called mans’ world. So began a rebellion of women demanding equal rights and opportunities that continues to this day. 

In 1976 I headed up to Alaska for a summer job that morphed into a 10-year stay.  Alaska was a perfect place for an independent, outdoorsy kind of woman to break down barriers.  Nobody blinked an eye if you built a cabin, commercial fished, mushed dogs, hunted, and the like.  Then in 1978, I met with my biggest obstacle- working in a sawmill as the only woman.  This is my story…

Sawmill Woman

The 6 1/2 mile mill, Wrangell, Alaska

On the first day of my new job, I drove the 6 ½ miles out the road with a lump in my stomach. My ’63 VW bug purred around the last bend and the sawmill came into view, a hulking, half- rusted sheet metal structure belching a billowing plume of steam from a tall stack. Shrieks and clanks of machinery inside clashed with the placid water of the canal and the misty islands beyond. This was not exactly in my life plan to work at a sawmill but there were no other options to be had in the small Southeastern Alaskan island town of Wrangell. It so happened when I needed a job, the 6 ½ mile mill needed an employee and a woman at that.

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The Orchard by my House is Gone

Image by Pixabay

An excavator appears at the hazelnut orchard down at the corner.  It begins to push the orderly rows of nut trees down effortlessly shoving their abused bodies into great piles- a mass grave of sort.  After some acreage of trees is leveled, the towering piles are lit on fire.  The fires burn on into the night, great tepees of combustion throwing sparks and smoke into the sky visible from my kitchen windows.  It takes about 10 days to burn the five acres of trees to ash. 

It was a scene of mass destruction like a battlefield – wisps of smoke dotting the landscape when the fighting was finally completed, the troops in retreat, the dead removed.  All that remains now are tractor tracks crisscrossed in a field of ashen mud.

In the leafy months, the five acres of hazelnut trees offered a dark, cool refuge.  Beneath their crowns, the soil was swept clean like a pioneer cabin dirt floor. Thus the orchard was an ideal place to play in the heat of mid-day.  My young son would ride his bike among the trees while I walked the dogs off-leash. I would play hide-and-go-seek with them. The dogs would experience a moment of panic when they noticed me missing and then gallop back to proudly sniff out my still form hiding behind the trunk of a tree. On moonlit nights the orchard was especially good for spooky walks, the deep shadows creating mysterious passages to explore.

We were trespassing of course.  The property belonged to a farmer who later I was told had the trees removed as they were diseased and well beyond their prime production years. They were his to take whether the neighbors grieved or not.

I sigh.  The trees in that orchard had been steadfast neighbors for going on 30 years of my residence in this house. I miss them just as I miss the once quiet roads and the woodlands that have been cut down for the vineyards that now cover the rolling hills in their place.

Change follows me like a shadow that blocks the sun.  It comes and goes at will through a door with no lock.  The fires of the orchard’s demise still burn in my memory. Sky now meets ground unfettered where the orchard once stood.  The hills in the distance are oddly naked. I light a candle at my table to keep myself steady.

Authors note:  It’s been a time of great change these last few years for all of us.  Covid, climate change, social and political divides have all taken a toll. Then there are the changes we face in our everyday life How do we cope?  I write, meditate, make art, listen to music, and light a candle every evening.

Embracing the Darkness- “Skijoring on Hoar Frost” a One Page Memoir

It is winter solstice today. This story came to mind of a much younger me living in Alaska…

photo by Pixabay

In December, the sun dips low in the peach and lavender sky at 1 PM in Fairbanks, Alaska.  Night begins to fall slowly at that latitude. When I lived there I learned to embrace the darkness lest I get claustrophobic in the small confines of our cabin. Dressed in layers of wool with a headlamp, I’d go chop firewood, shovel snow, or better yet, go out for a night ski.  We lived on Yellow Snow Rd., aptly  named for the many dog teams that lived on it so there were plenty of dog trails to ski on in the neighborhood.

Hoar frost was an event.  At subfreezing temperatures, moisture present in the air would freeze in a crystalline structure and collect on the surfaces of branches eventually coating them in a sparking beard of white.  At 10 below zero to 10 degrees above, a hoar frost provided the perfect conditions to ski.

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Untold Stories

Upstairs in my studio is a jumble of old photographs and boxes of slides from my youth in shoe boxes beneath a work table.  Those of you from the “pre-digital” age might relate to this. When my son was born over thirty years ago I changed my ways and carefully IMG_0067documented his life and our life as a family in tidy photo albums- until he left home.  Currently, my photos are all on my cell phone or floating in “The Cloud.”  Now and again I think that I should go through and sort out my old photos into albums.  But then I ask “Why?” I’m not famous.  I have no grandchildren.

They have no meaning other to myself and will mostly be recycled as with my physical body.  Maybe if I’m lucky some will wind up in some artist’s collage.

Shoe Boxes

When I die he will find them

Decades of my life

Stored in shoe boxes upstairs

Hundreds of captionless photos tucked in envelopes

Slides stacked neatly in folding Kodak boxes

Captured by a cheap camera

In eager hands

They illustrate the stories

That have largely gone untold

The forces of my life

That sanded me smooth on the inside,

Carved on the surface

Experiences of a young woman

Seeking adventure

And a place at the world’s table

When he finds them

He will see a younger me

With unnamed friends and unnamed lovers

Unnamed mountains

Unnamed rivers

Smiling

He will see walruses basking on rocks,

But not hear their music

Cabins, but not feel their warmth

Trails, but not know their destinations

My stories will die with me

Melding into the ethos

He will never know my joy

My youthful dreams

My pain and disappointments

The person before Mother

The me before you

On The Way

It was the late 1950s and America was on the road.  My family was one of them.  Some of my fondest memories were from these times and our many camping trips to Yosemite National Park & beyond. This one’s for you, Dad…..

“Are we almost there yet?”1309f33c20927d222859100d29bb9db5

I whined to my parents as we motored down seemingly endless highways

punctuated with Burma-Shave signs,jack44

Jumbo Orange stands and other odd roadside attractions.

We traveled to the pace of a ’56 Chevy Station wagon

two-toned Red & White

unbuckled with my older brother in the way back
56 chevy

windows rolled down

stifling heat & wind flapping about our ears

while we sang songs in harmony

& read piles of comic books

rejoicing in those stops

with dripping ice cream cones

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on the way to that perfect camp spot under shady pine trees.

We slept under the stars on army cots

tucked in thick sleeping bags lined with red flannel plaid

waking to the “shhhhhh” sound of the Coleman stove.

We waded in creeks turning over rocks exposing odd bugs yosemite-post-card

& released crude sailboats made of wood scraps &  white rag sails

into the current past our tin can waterwheels.

It was a wild wonderland

for a young girl with legs as spindly as a colt’s.

Now looking back to those years from the arc of adulthood

“Are we almost there yet?”

We were there

We were there all the time.

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