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Our Autumn in Yosemite

 By Dan Schaeffer


I plant my beach chair firmly in the clean white river sand on a familiar bank of the Merced River, shoulders aching from carrying approximately 3,000 pounds of necessary supplies along dirt and pine needle trails. We are only a half mile from our campsite in Yosemite Valley yet a world away from our home in the Southern California suburbs.  Every fall since our oldest was a year old, we pilgrimage to this one special spot in the valley. We come to relax and spend time together as a family.


The millions of people who visit Yosemite Valley leave it nearly deserted in fall, and the Merced River becomes our private playground. An emerald colored body of rushing river in the spring, it is now quiet, tired, and content to pool, and flow gently by.  Christi, our oldest, dashes to the icy clear water. Putting her foot in, she shrieks in mock horror. Andrew, her brother, and Katie, our youngest, soon join her and before long they are laughing and splashing about in the shallow water near shore, skipping rocks across the surface, and making sand angels. Annette and I watch the whole scene from our beach chairs, doing precisely what we came to do, exactly nothing. 


Every year we return, because we want our kids to visit places where nature remains undisturbed, the night sky is free of light pollution, and hurry is a dirty word. Here they create memories and learn important lessons of childhood. Everything that is really fun to do doesn't have to cost a fortune. Living in America is an incredible blessing. Life doesn't have to be lived at warp speed, and I will catch whoever splashes cold water on me in the middle of my nap and tickle them until next Tuesday.


As the hours drift slowly by, they frolic in the raft, splashing each other with paddles as wild Mallard Ducks fly by so close to the water that they touch it with their wings. Towards evening, we trudge back to camp.


After dinner, and much pleading, I allow Andrew, under very careful surveillance, to start a fire-in the fire pit. Nearby, Annette assembles the makings for S'mores as the kids race for the coat hangers. Soon all three children are sitting in front of a crackling campfire roasting marshmallows. Roasting is perhaps too mild a term. Many become flaming torches, melting into gooey black muck.


The fire blazes warm, comforting, and serene. But the smoke, controlled by an erratic mild breeze, appears magnetically attracted to wherever Annette chooses to sit. At least that's what she claims. As Andrew searches for twigs to toss in the fire, Katie, sitting on my lap, gazes up with me into a veritable sea of stars.


"Look at them all," she murmurs. "I never knew there were so many."


"Why can't we see them at home?" Andrew asks, and I explain the problem of light pollution.


We turn off the lantern so that the only light visible is the soft glow from our campfire. While Annette makes hot chocolate, Christi points her flashlight up one of the many nearby trees so tall that the beam of her flashlight cannot reach its topmost branches. Suddenly, Katie announces that she has accidentally dropped her gooey S'more on my sweatshirt, eliciting giggles all around.


As the night grows still, our kids stare sleepily into the fire. Somewhere it may get better than this, but I can't imagine how.

Yosemite falls



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