Year in Yosemite: Indian Summer
I took a walk today. I had to. In one of the most surprising turns of events since we moved to Yosemite National Park almost three years ago, winter seems to have gotten confused and forgotten to show up. Suddenly temperatures are springtime warm, the skies are a deep azure blue and there are enough flies zipping through the air to make me think they got it wrong too. And so I walk, wanting to drink it all in while I can, feeling both amazed and thankful.
Last year at this time the park was already knee-deep in snow. Coming back from Thanksgiving vacation we were greeted by the Highway Patrol and required to “chain up” before driving the last two miles from Highway 41 to Yosemite. When my husband got out of the car to put ours on, it was so cold and dark that after half an hour of trying, he jumped in the car and announced we were heading back down to Oakhurst, half an hour away. I was secretly hoping that meant a motel stop for the night, but no, he just wanted the brightness of a gas station and a warmer place to work. On the way back up the hill, the chains broke. Ever resourceful, my husband tied them together and we made it home, but not before a Yosemite friend had gone up and down that hill in the snow, the ice and the dark trying to find us and help. That’s both the blessing and curse of Yosemite. Weather so wicked it can easily defeat you. Friends so kind they always have your back.
This morning, anticipating the inevitable, I spent an hour getting out winter jackets, hats, gloves and boots from the bins where they’d spent the summer. Rumor has it that snow is on the way. My husband (who hates winter with the same ferocity with which our daughter loves it) headed south. It might not sound romantic to the casual listener, but before he left he watched to make sure I knew how to get the generator working, wrote notes about winterizing the house and made sure the right chains were with the right car. Then he jumped in our strictly-for-summer hybrid and, like a smart goose, headed south. (Once winter comes, we’re an all Subaru family). His parting words were a caution to pull the cars into the garage before predicted wind gusts of 75 miles an hour hit tomorrow.
It’s in moments like these that I fixate on the Southern Miwok who lived in Yosemite long before Europeans ever found America’s shores. No Diane Sawyer and her Made in America campaign for them. Everything about their lives was authentically American and locally made, from their snowshoes fashioned from wooden hoops wrapped with grape vines to their deer skin clothes and rabbit fur capes.
But it’s what they didn’t wear that interests me. Many a mountain man and European traveler spoke in awe of the locals’ ability to wear practically nothing even as temperatures plummeted. So in tune were they with the natural world that their core body temperature stayed constant without the help of hats, gloves, parkas, and snow pants and boots. If things got really bad—and this being Yosemite of course it did—like my husband they headed south. By their reasoning, when the acorns were gathered and the animals they relied on for dinner headed for lower ground, it only made sense to do the same. I’d say most of America agrees with them. In time the entire country will probably be living in the Sunbelt. But then, who’d be there to see the trees wearing the latest in red and gold or smell the pines baking in the sun? Today I was here to take in one of fall’s last great pleasures. Who knows what tomorrow will bring.
-- Jamie Simons/photos by Jon Jay
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." Jamie and her family have since lived in the park. Check out all of her blog articles by clicking here.