Birthday boy’s trip builds on memories
Sometimes the best adventure turns out to be a bit more adventurous than planned.
Weeks before his birthday, my youngest child decided he, his wife and their three children should celebrate the occasion in Yosemite National Park in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains.
When the boy was growing up, we camped most every summer in the glorious Yosemite Valley. After his dad died, he worked in the park for a year cleaning campgrounds and running the ski shop.
It was no surprise he wanted to celebrate his big day in the shadow of Half Dome. He invited the whole family to join him. We all wanted to go, but only one of us could make it.
The day he was born, I looked into his eyes, pressed my face to his neck and felt his tiny fingers wrap around my thumb.
I haven’t been with him for every birthday, but I wanted to be with him for this one. I wanted to look once again into those eyes, press my face to his neck and feel his big arms wrap around me. Even if it meant I had to drive.
Lodging was limited. The boy and his family had booked a small cabin. I could stay with them, if somebody slept on the floor. Never mind who.
Tents were available, but I did not want to hunt for a bathroom in the dark and trip over a bear. I’ve done that. Once is enough.
The best option was a single night at Yosemite Lodge. I took it. Then I booked rooms for the other stops along the way.
From my home in Las Vegas, I’d drive in a circle; spend two days getting to Yosemite; one night in the park with the boy and his family; head over Tioga Pass to June Lake for a night; then drive six hours to home.
This drive meant a lot of pit stops, but despite what my husband says, I’m an excellent driver. Once, when I was too young to have better sense, I drove 10,000 miles around
the country. Never mind why. How hard could this drive be?
I didn’t know about the fire until I saw the smoke.
Stopping for the night at a hotel in Fish Camp, Calif., just south of the park, I asked an attendant, “Where’s the fire?”
He pointed west. Less than 20 miles away, the town of Mariposa, Calif., had been evacuated. Power was out in Yosemite Valley. I could still enter the park from the south. But the west entrance — on the road my son and his family had planned to drive — was closed.
I phoned the boy. They knew about the fire, had rerouted south and were almost in Fish Camp. They stopped at the hotel and we had dinner together.
“I’ll call you in the morning
before you drive in,” my son said. “If the smoke’s too bad, we probably shouldn’t stay.”
Then they drove on to the park to check into a dark cabin.
By morning, the fire had doubled in size and forced hundreds from their homes. But in the park, power was restored and the smoke had lifted a bit.
“We’re staying,” said the boy.
“OK,” I said, “I’m on my way.”
Driving to the valley, I prayed for the families whose homes were threatened by the fire, and for the firefighters who would risk their lives to save them.
An hour later, surrounded by Half Dome, Glacier Point and Yosemite Falls, I sat watching my grandchildren play in the same dirt their dad played in as a boy.
We celebrated his birthday at dinner. My 6-year-old grandson spent that night with me at the lodge. At 5 a.m., he whispered, “Nana, wake up! It’s daylight!”
We all met for pancakes, then hugged goodbyes to get on the road. But first, I looked into my boy’s eyes, pressed my face to his neck and felt his big, smoky arms wrap around me.
Raising a child is an adventure filled with wildfires, roadblocks and endless questions that can only be answered by faith and love and a whole lot of hope.
But it is such a gift to see that child grow up to be someone you adore, admire and will drive a long way to sit in the dirt and celebrate his birth.
Happy birthday, sweet boy. I am so glad you were born.