Year in Yosemite: After the Storm
After almost two weeks, we returned to our home in Yosemite National Park to find barely a sign of the storm that had sent us scurrying. Electricity was on. Our house was warm. The snow, which had been piled high when we left the park, was now almost melted. Only huge graveyards of downed trees bore witness to what had been.
We were the lucky ones. Faced without heat and water, we had packed up and left for warmer climates. Law enforcement rangers and emergency fire crews didn't have that option. Their job is to remain on site, no matter what. And so the ranger with the two-day old baby stayed. As did the assistant fire chief with two small children and a pregnant wife. This year, Wawona got a new district ranger. He and his family spent the last 13 years at Lake Powell, Arizona. Snow, cold and no electricity were not really on their agenda. Yet when I asked his wife how they fared she said, "It wasn't so bad. I had everything I needed, even if I did have to shower at the neighbors." Then she added the words that had been playing in my mind since the storm began. "How can I complain when you think about Japan?"
Japan. The word echoed in my mind as we packed up our belongings, winterized our house and made our way out of Yosemite. Japan. I thought of it again as we drove past mudslides, fallen trees and downed electric lines. Japan, with its nuclear catastrophe, decimated villages, dead and missing people.
In January of 1994, I was awakened in Los Angeles to violent shaking, glass shattering and neighbors screaming. In the dark, I crawled under a desk and, for whatever reason, called my sister who lives 400 miles away. She could feel the earthquake at her house. When it was over (a mere 7.0—huge for Los Angeles—minor compared to Japan's), our whole neighborhood headed out into the street. There I discovered the reason they call them shock waves. Stupefied, we all wandered in the dark, not knowing what to do, where to turn and wondering if worse was to follow. For days, many of us roamed the neighborhood, looking at the destruction like voyeurs at an accident, gripping whatever was close when the ground began to shake again.
Two weeks after the earthquake I went to synagogue. There I listened as perfectly intelligent, educated and thoughtful people got up, one after another, and asked, "How could God do this to us?" When I could stand no more, I stood up and asked, "How could we build a city on fault lines?" At this, the head rabbi, a victim of polio, struggled to his feet and said, "The question we should be asking ourselves is not, 'How could God do this to us?' but, 'Why is the world unfinished?'"
For this question, I have no answer. Twenty-five years later, I still ponder this koan, thinking of it when I hear of earthquakes, tsunamis and killer storms. I don't expect to understand its meaning in this lifetime. The most satisfactory explanation I've ever found was in the words of John Muir when he wrote, "One learns that the world, though made, is yet being made. That this is still the morning of creation." For many of us, that at times, seems a curse. I suspect for the Earth, it is a blessing.
-- 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.)