Yosemite, in my father’s footsteps

Sep 20, 2009 § Leave a comment

My time in Yosemite was relaxing, invigorating, and too short in duration. I can’t believe I haven’t made the trek here until now, after living in California for over 7 years. I also regret not talking to my father more about his time here, before he passed on.

What I do know is this: in 1968, my father returned to the States after his tour of duty in Vietnam was up. Before heading home to Louisiana, he crashed with my Aunt Nora (Teenie) in her small apartment in North Beach near the corner of Grant & Green. Around September of that year, he spent at least a week in Yosemite Valley alone in an effort to quiet his mind before returning to Louisiana to find his place in the world. He was 22 years old, he had survived a war, and his whole life was still ahead of him. He told us about sleeping under the stars in the Valley, breathing the pine-filled air, and swimming in cold mountain streams. Soon he would return to the South to be near his family and attend trade school. A few years later, he met my mother on an impromtpu blind date at the now defunct Broadmoor Theater in Baton Rouge. The rest, as they say, is history.

There was a shoebox of full of unsorted photos in my parents’ room… captured moments from the early years of their life together jumbled into one mass of colorful memories: honeymoon in Arkansas, the hills of East Texas, the strawberry fields of Ponchatoula, a trailer park near where Dad built our home in Denham Springs. When I was younger, I would take these photos out and contemplate them. I wondered what kind of music my parents listened to when driving around in his 67 Volkswagen Bug, or where they went for dinner on Friday evenings. And then, there was a collection of medium format photographs from a place of immense natural wonder… silent cliffs towering over pines, deep valleys and white-capped mountain waters. I had never seen a mountain before, or knew the prickly chill of swimming in an alpine stream. The place in these photos was Yosemite.

This year, I brought a handful of these photos back to California with me, with the intention of re-creating them with my own medium format cameras. I thought that even if I didn’t get the pictures right, I would at least get some more practice with implementing them… as I’ve tried to do all summer, of course. What I didn’t anticipate is that this project would turn into a treasure hunt of sorts. To others I encountered on the trails during my week-long stay, I must have seemed like Leonard in the film Memento, holding up worn photographs to my surroundings, trying to guage where my father might have stood in order to see the vistas in these photos. Although I wasn’t successful in re-enacting all of the photos to the frame (in some cases, my father would have had to intrude on protected grounds… such as the valley meadows, to get the shots that he did), I do feel confident that I walked much of the same trails he did, and took in the same vistas. Some landmarks I recognized immediately, such as Grizzly Peak and Yosemite Falls. For some locations I enlisted the help of knowledgeable Park Rangers. Others I stumbled upon through dumb luck, such as the image above — the view from the top of Vernal Falls along the Mist Trail.

I know this product of glacial power must have made him feel very small, in prespective to the natural world. I know he must have wished he could live out the rest of his days here, walking amongst the mule deer in the meadows. I know he felt a renewed faith in the beauty and power of nature; that there are places on this earth that are still quiet, nurturing and peaceful. I know these things, because I certainly felt them. I hope to see Yosemite again soon, and I look forward to the day when I can share these images and experiences with my children.

You can view my Dad’s photos from 1968 here, photos from my Holga & Lubitel cameras here, and the digital collection is here. I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed taking them.

1968                                //                          2009

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