Re­mem­ber­ing Yosemite

He’s at­tended many events al­ready this year, but one in par­tic­u­lar trig­gered in Peter Bush some happy mem­o­ries of his time in Yosemite

The Photographer's Mail - - Column - Peter Bush

We’re halfway through the year, and I have al­ready en­joyed a num­ber of func­tions and ex­hi­bi­tions that have passed through New Zealand’s cap­i­tal city. Lead­ing the way in June was Ex­po­sure: The New Zealand

Photo Show, with many of the events car­ry­ing a free-en­try tag. So, while it was on, I went down and checked out the very large The Welling­ton We Love wall of pic­tures — many of the prints show­cas­ing sights and venues in the city I had never seen be­fore.

Next, of course, was the must-see photographic trade show, which was held in con­junc­tion with the NZIPP In­fo­cus Con­fer­ence. All the lat­est gleam­ing dig­i­tal gear was on dis­play, and it was all too much to take in dur­ing the limited time I had to browse, as, later that af­ter­noon, I had an ap­point­ment at West­pac Sta­dium to wit­ness the All Blacks play the tour­ing Welsh side.

A week later, I was down at Welling­ton’s Acad­emy Gal­leries for a gala open­ing of En­vi­ron­ment: Cel­e­bra­tion + Con­ser­va­tion, a photographic ex­hi­bi­tion cu­rated by Julie Nevett and Si­mon Woolf, to cel­e­brate 100 years of Amer­i­can na­tional parks and ac­knowl­edge the vis­ual his­tory, en­vi­ron­ment, and peo­ple of Welling­ton. This was an ex­hi­bi­tion of stun­ning images, and a trib­ute to the many ded­i­cated peo­ple who made it hap­pen. Along­side the se­lec­tion of large beau­ti­ful full-colour prints of Amer­i­can na­tional-park landscapes were other col­lec­tions cel­e­brat­ing Welling­ton’s own vis­ual wonder. Pho­tog­ra­pher and pub­lisher Gra­ham Stewart had selected, from his vast num­ber of files, 21 black-and-white prints of the city’s his­toric tram fleet, circa the 1950s, and top com­mer­cial pho­tog­ra­pher Nick Ser­vian con­trib­uted four archival prints of the har­bour and other scenes, all shot from his home up on the Brook­lyn sky­line. It was a truly mem­o­rable evening, the climax be­ing a su­perb per­for­mance by Whim’s Rhythm, a group of young women a cap­pella singers on a world tour from Yale Univer­sity.

For this ex­hi­bi­tion, I had sub­mit­ted two black-and-white prints from a time long ago in Amer­ica when I worked in the Yosemite Na­tional Park as a part-time guide and room clerk. This was in 1953, dur­ing a stop on my youth­ful global wan­der­ing. One print is of a black bear cub and my­self. The story be­hind the image is one I have of­ten told, so please be pa­tient with me … It was the end of May, and the snow cov­er­ing the High Sier­ras was slowly melt­ing. As it was my day off, I had hiked up to Glacier Point, which com­mands an in­spir­ing view of the Yosemite Val­ley be­low and the high peaks of the Sier­ras sur­round­ing it. Just out of the pic­ture, I had set up my small stove and boiled the billy for tea. As I was en­joy­ing a fat sand­wich, I was sud­denly joined at my lunch site by this half-grown bear cub. Not be­ing overly fa­mil­iar with bears of any size, I thought it wise to share part of my lunch, which I of­fered on the stick I am hold­ing in the pic­ture. The pho­to­graph was taken on my Rollei­flex with an f/3.5 lens mounted on a small tri­pod with a self-timer trip­ping the shutter.

Later in my stay, I saw a num­ber of full-grown black bears — some of them prov­ing to be a real nui­sance as they raided the tents of staff and vis­it­ing tourists alike. A week af­ter my en­counter with the young bruin, I set off very early in the morn­ing for an overly am­bi­tious hike through the still–heav­ily snow-cov­ered Sier­ras, my des­ti­na­tion be­ing a ranger’s base near the top of the lo­cal range. At times, I was floun­der­ing through waist-deep pow­dery snow, while, at other times, I strayed off the nor­mally well-marked trail. Evening shad­ows were deep­en­ing when I fi­nally spot­ted a lone light shin­ing from a snow-cov­ered cabin.

Re­lief would not do jus­tice to my de­light at reach­ing such a safe haven nor at the gen­eros­ity of the ranger, who not only of­fered me the hos­pi­tal­ity of his lodg­ings but con­tin­ued to cook up a seem­ingly never-end­ing sup­ply of pan­cakes with maple syrup for me to de­vour.

In the morn­ing, amid a win­ter won­der­land of snow-cov­ered pines, we en­joyed a hearty break­fast. Af­ter fin­ish­ing the meal, he switched on the ra­dio and, a few mo­ments later, we heard the elec­tri­fy­ing news that a ‘Noo Zealan­der’ and a Sherpa had con­quered Ever­est. When he men­tioned Ed­mund Hil­lary as the climber and Ten­z­ing Nor­gay as the guide, I could not help but tell him that I had met and pho­tographed Ed back in Auck­land while work­ing at The New Zealand Her­ald. Not to be dis­cour­aged by my­self, the ranger was soon on the ra­dio to tell his mates that he had hosted one of Ed’s coun­try­men in his cabin that night.

My stay in Yosemite re­mains one of the hap­pi­est and most mem­o­rable pe­ri­ods of my life. I re­turned there in 2002 with my mate Gerry Evans to find many more tourists, but Half Dome and the other silent mono­liths still cast the same shad­ows across that great Yosemite Val­ley.

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