Until my family moved to Yosemite National Park 18 months ago, I had spent most of my life in cities. City life can be frustrating — crowds, noise, traffic — but it's also easy. Need something? Pick up the phone. Pizza? Plumber? Paramedic? It doesn't matter; most anything is just minutes away. Not so in Yosemite. Nothing is close. Little is easy. You are basically on your own. Maybe that's why the community is so tight; everyone watches out for each other.
Even so, life here is not for everyone. (Many a couple have split up or left the park when one partner could no longer tolerate the isolation). Most of our neighbors are law enforcement rangers and fire personnel who have to be in Yosemite 24/7. It may just be me, and my limited exposure to rural Americans, but on the whole, I've never met anyone like them. Simply put, they're doers. They see a problem and they solve it — quickly, efficiently, without a lot of fuss and nary a complaint. Most amazing, the size of the problem doesn't seem to matter.
On Saturday, our little one-room school had its big spring fundraiser. There are only nine children at our school and they represent only seven families. Yet, with help from a supportive community, we received enough silent-auction donations to raise over $8000 in three hours. That's impressive. But here's what struck me. At nine o'clock that morning, a couple who work in fire management showed up to volunteer. They have no children at the school. Yet they stayed the entire day. They picked up the food from the Wawona Hotel, and then manned the kitchen for hours on end to see that everything ran smoothly. We fed lunch to over one hundred people that day, yet one woman, working alone, oversaw it all — quickly and efficiently.
That seems to be the park service way. A couple of weeks earlier, when rangers and fire personnel were called out in the middle of this year’s biggest snow storm to help with a medical emergency, efforts that I would deem heroic were described by the responders as "just doing my job."
They treated the person on site, then, when the weather and road conditions made it impossible for an ambulance or a helicopter to reach the victim, they drove him to safety. But driving on this day — on a highway covered in two feet of snow, strewn with downed trees, electric wires, abandoned cars and stranded motorists — involved removing each obstacle one at a time. While caring for the patient, five people — a Park Service Ranger, a Forest Service medic, Yosemite's forester, and two fire personnel — had to move cars off the highway, cut through fifteen trees (at times armed only with hand saws), then snowshoe through the forest in search of linemen to cut electric lines that lay across the road. So difficult was the task, it took them one-and-a-half hours to go only two miles.
Here is Yosemite as visitors see it. The first two images show Yosemite as first responders see it. (Photo credits: Ranger Heidi Schlichting for the first two images; Charles Phillips for this image.)
After it was over and the patient was safe, they all returned to work (two of the fire staff were actually volunteering that day), and put in another seven hours on the job. Average time worked that day? Eleven hours. When asked about it, every one of them just shrugged and said, "It was no big deal."
Admittedly, I'm a wimp. Maybe it's the decades I've spent just picking up the phone for help. But living here and watching these people in action gives me hope. Hope that I'll learn to be more self-sufficient. Hope that our daughter will learn that lesson, too. When we first told our friends and family that we were moving to Yosemite, people reacted with a combination of shock and concern. I live with a potentially life-threatening medical condition. No one we knew could believe I would choose to put myself so far from hospitals and medical help. But watching our friends and neighbors in action, I have to say there's nowhere on Earth where I feel more safe. And there's nowhere on Earth I'd rather be.
-- 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.)