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Year in Yosemite: Perfection

Yosemite_trees1 Photo by Karis Simons

Can a day be perfect? When people hear that my family and I live in Yosemite National Park, they seem to assume that each day is awash with wonder and contentment. And while it’s true that I only have to walk outside on a sunny day to feel happy and alive, those times are tempered by real life—a husband who loves Yosemite’s beauty but finds it too isolated and too quiet, a child who seems allergic to homework and a home still in need of unpacking and organizing one month after we moved in.

So can a day in Yosemite be perfect? Based on a Christmas visit to Yosemite Valley, when the whole, exquisite dreamscape that makes up the heart of the park seemed like it was putting on a holiday show, even my “I’d rather be in L.A.” husband would answer with a hearty yes.

Part of its magic was probably due to the fact that the day was completely unplanned. My niece and her best friend Kathy had come to Wawona to help us unpack a seemingly endless stack of boxes and bins. Knowing this was to be a work trip, they hoped to squeeze in a couple of quick hikes around our house. Desperate to make use of their strong backs and organizational skills, I was one with that plan.

Yosemite_trees2 Photo by Karis Simons

But on their third day here, nature set me straight. After weeks of freezing, snowy weather, the day dawned bright and sunny with temperatures expected in the 60s. That, plus the fact that the two were raised in Ireland and Kathy had never been to Yosemite, made my husband and I decide that a trip to the Valley was in order. I quickly called The Ahwanhee Hotel to make a breakfast reservation only to be told that by the time we made the hour-long trip from Wawona, the dining room would be closed.

Then the lovely woman on the other end of the phone suggested that she tell the dining room we’d be late and see if they’d hold the reservation. We jumped in the car but in spite of our best efforts, a complete lack of traffic, and heroic driving on my husband’s part, we couldn’t make it on time. At 10:30, the very time the dining room closes, my cell phone rang. “Have you made it to the Valley floor yet?” asked the Delaware North employee. “We’re pulling up to the Ahwanhee now,” I replied. “Great,” she said, “because we’re keeping the dining room open for you.”

Needless to say, we couldn’t believe our luck. We bolted from the car and ran for the dining room just to be sure our luck held. It did. But as beautiful as the dining room and the Ahwanhee are, they paled in comparison to what awaited us outside.

In the weeks before our visit, an early winter storm had dumped three feet of snow on the Valley, turning everything white and encasing the autumn leaves in ice. Now with the spring-like temperatures, a fog was rising up from the ground while the sun, blazing down on the golden leaves, made them sparkle like diamonds. Could it get more perfect? Apparently so. 

Yosemite_buck Photo by Jon Jay

As we stood in front of the walkway to Yosemite Falls, three enormous bucks came romping through the snow-covered meadow, each displaying a rack of antlers so large and glorious they looked like their names should be Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen. We’ve lived in Yosemite for over a year now and we’ve seen a lot of deer, but until this day I had never seen such huge bucks, one after another, running across a snow-covered field like something straight out of a Christmas card. Then they crossed the road, gathered up their does and fawns and lay down among the visitors allowing people to get close enough to pet them (which thankfully no one did). It was at this point that I began to think the day had taken on an almost mystical aura, something even beyond the normal awe-inspiring beauty of the place.

The feeling was confirmed as we rounded the corner just below El Capitan. Shadows filled the meadow that runs alongside the river. Fog rose. Leaves shimmered. It was a landscape unlike anything I’d witnessed before in the park. Every car stopped. People leapt out with their cameras. My 9-year-old daughter nailed it.

John Muir once wrote, “So abundant and novel are the objects of interest in a pure wilderness that unless you are pursuing special studies it matters little where you go, or how often to the same place. Wherever you chance to be always seems at the moment of all places the best; and you feel that there can be no happiness in this world or in any other for those who may not be happy here.” On that day and in that place, even my husband had to concur.

-- 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.)

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