Photos credit: John Jay
Eighteen months ago, my family and I moved to Yosemite National Park. The absolute quiet of the place was something I prized; I couldn't get enough of it. But, over time, I've come to realize that Yosemite isn't silent, there's just an absence of city noise. So while there's no drone of freeway traffic, no blare of car horns or whine of helicopters, it does come with its own unique sounds. Most of these I love—like the roar of the Merced River that flows just yards from our door; the howl of coyotes on the prowl; the wind powering through the trees. There is, however, one sound that makes my blood (soon followed by the rest of me) turn cold. It's the sound of our telephone beeping, an early warning that the electricity is about to go down.
A week ago Sunday, my husband and I woke to this beeping at 6 am. We didn't panic. In fact, we just turned over and went back to sleep. Electricity in Yosemite goes out on a regular basis, usually for a day or two. And while everything in our home—from the heat to the stove to the pump that provides our water—runs off electricity, losing it is inconvenient and cold, but not the end of the world. At the time, last Sunday's storm seemed so insignificant that we decided to keep a bowling date with friends and drive the 25 miles to Oakhurst.
That ride to Oakhurst was one of the most beautiful rides of my life. If white signals the presence of all color; then, thanks to the frosting-thick snow that covered every tree, road, house, creek, stream and gully, every color in the universe was present and accounted for. I may have been raised in Minnesota, gone to college in northern New York and lived for a while in Canada, but until that day, I'd never seen anything like it. Unfortunately, thick dollops of falling snow aren't just beautiful; they are also fearsome. By the time we woke up Monday morning, the electricity wasn't just out, the electric lines were lying all over the ground along with scores of trees.
While surveying our tiny village with a neighbor, I felt a sense of wonder—massive hundred-year-old oak trees lie strewn across roadways with electric lines wrapped through their boughs—accompanied by the knowledge that we were going to be without electricity for a very long time. In typical Wawona fashion, neighbors began to plot and plan how to deal with the situation—all of the suggestions big-hearted, thoughtful and inclusive—but, ultimately, not enough. By Monday evening, the park was closed, the Valley had been evacuated and all roads in and out were either under snow or the victims of landslides.
On Tuesday morning, firemen knocked at our door to say that a convoy was leaving Wawona at noon—our last and only chance to leave. And, if we left, we couldn't come back until we got the okay. Expectations were that it would be a week. By then our house was hovering in the 40s and the gas for our generator was running low. We threw clothes in bags, packed up our food and buried it in the snow, left faucets on to drip and turned off the water main. Then we headed out to join the convoy.
The mood there was positively festive—at least for Wawona residents—visitors to the park seemed stricken. Last year, when we had a similar snowstorm, most of us stayed for the ten days it took to restore power. Now, given a chance to leave, people took it and as the line of cars grew, neighbors went from car to car visiting like it was a tailgate party.
We've been in Sacramento now for a little less than a week doing all the things we do whenever we hit a city. Hair has been cut, stores have been visited and we're working on our fill of Thai, Vietnamese and Indian food, none of which is available in or near the park. Yet home calls. We're just waiting for the power to come back on. Then we'll turn our car east once more, eager to hear the roar of the river, the wind in the treetops and the howl of the coyotes. There is, however, one sound I'm hoping not to hear — that's the beeping of the telephone just before our world goes cold. That I could do without.
-- Jamie Simons
In May 2009, while hiking in Yosemite National Park, long-time Los Angeles resident Jamie Simons turned to her husband and said, "I want to live here." Today she and her family have made the move to live for one year in Wawona, where her daughter attends the one-room schoolhouse, Jamie writes, and her husband longs for noise, fast food, people, and the city.(Though he's learning to appreciate mountain life.)