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Year in Yosemite: A Sense of Place

NELDER GROVE 11 MILE HIKEOur daughter was born in China. She came to the United States at the age of fifteen months. From then until the end of second grade, she lived in Los Angeles. For the past three years, Yosemite National Park has been her home. Part of the poignancy of living here is that she knows that one day we will pack up and head back south. These days it looks like that will be sooner rather than later. So she's sad. Sad because her love of Yosemite knows no bounds, sad because she knows that living here is a blessing -- one that she doesn't want to end.

When we moved to Yosemite, I felt that one of its great gifts would be to give our daughter a deep sense of place. To know that no matter where she goes in the world, there is a park so beautiful, so magical, that even decades after moving away, it will still feel like home. I wanted her to have this because I never did. Growing up, we changed neighborhoods, cities or states every couple of years. After college, I spent a decade traveling the globe, and while I liked some places better than others, nowhere left me feeling rooted.

Enter Brenda Negley. I met her this past Sunday when our daughters attended the same birthday party. Brenda's childhood was a lot like mine. Lots of moving. No sense of place ... except for this: Every summer of her life, Brenda would stay with her grandparents -- John and Marge Hawksworth -- at the Nelder Grove of Giant Sequoias, just outside the southern entrance to Yosemite National Park. The Hawksworths spent their summers in the grove because, after a lifetime of working for the U.S. Forest Service, they became the Nelder Grove's first campground hosts.

It was a volunteer job, but they took it very seriously. As soon as the snow melted, they headed to the grove and they did not leave until well into fall. Throughout their 20 years as hosts, they stayed in camp all day, six days a week, to greet visitors and show them around. On their one day off, they made a hurried trip into town to do laundry and replenish groceries.

My sis and I in Nelder as kids

Into this world came Brenda, her sister and their cousins. They played among the Nelder Grove's 100 mature giant sequoias. They ran through its creeks. They camped in its forests. Their grandfather, who studied the flora and fauna of the grove with the intensity of an archeologist with a Dead Sea Scroll, showed them how he'd dated the grove's massive Bull Buck Tree (2700 years old) by counting the stump rings of every sequoia foresters had cut down around it. At one time, the grove had 377 mature giant sequoias. By the time the forestry companies were done, it was down to 100. But that didn't diminish its beauty or its importance for Brenda's grandparents. In fact, it may have made the remaining trees even more precious.

The Hawksworths' years of service were so appreciated that, when Brenda's grandmother passed away, the Forest Service asked her grandfather to pick out a tree to be named in their honor. He picked Marge’s favorite tree -- the one she called the bee tree for the bees that lived under its bark. It’s now officially known as the Hawksworth Tree. To this day, on John and Marge's wedding anniversary, the various members of the Hawksworth clan gather for a hike to their tree.

Chances are, Brenda is leading the way. Moved by her grandparents' devotion to the grove and grateful for the home it provided for her mind and heart, she started the non-profit Friends of Nelder Grove, produced the Grove’s interpretive guide, and is writing a book about its history. Come visit Nelder Grove this summer and you can meet Brenda in person. Following in her grandparents’ footsteps, she, along with her husband and kids, are now the campground hosts.

Hawksworth Tree 2008

This gives me hope. Like my daughter, Brenda spent her childhood in the Yosemite region, then left. She joined the army. She attended the University of Texas at Austin. She taught in California’s Central Valley. Then, hoping to find a job in her favorite backyard, she returned. Returned to her beloved mountains and to the Nelder Grove, the place that, more than any other on Earth, let’s her heart know that she’s home. 

(Photos: Top photo of Nelder Grove by Victor Caldwell; second photo of Brenda and her sister near the Culvert in Nelder Grove by John Hawksworth; Photo of Brenda's family in front of the Hawksworth Tree by Stacie Hawksworth-Lazarchef.)

-- 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." Jamie and her family have since lived in the park. Check out all of her blog articles by clicking here

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