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Half Dome and the Merced River before the full moon came up to light them.

The campfire shouted heat into the cold Sierra evening and I pulled my camp chair up close, allowing my body to warm and my mind to wander into the flames.

Thoughts of freedom and choices flooded me and suddenly I felt like the luckiest wanderer/photographer/writer/human that I knew.  To be able to spend three months amongst the tall pines, firs, cedars and even a sequoia, listening to the creatures and breathing the fresh mountain air is one thing, but to have the good fortune of my trailer and utilities – well, bliss comes to mind.

A group of young people in a camp site behind me were having troubles getting their own fire going with the wet and green wood and they kept looking over at mine.    I want to help them but tell myself that their fire woes are theirs and not mine and so continue to luxuriate in my bliss just a little while longer.  Until I can no longer stand their furtive glances…the fire was also meant to be their cook stove for their ethnic foods that consisted of meat and vegetable kabobs, which, by the way, had smelled good earlier in the day.  I load my arms up with dried sticks and twigs and take the pile over, showing them what would burn best.  Earlier in the day they had attempted to blow up their mattress using my bicycle pump.

At the campground.

I am good at camping, having done it for a life time, except in the years when I didn’t.  When injuries, illness or sissy husbands who didn’t sleep on the ground interfered with my passion for the out of doors.  It was only one husband who was a sissy.  During the intervening years I remembered the gourmet meals cooked over the campfires, the quiet solitude, the laughter of my children, the hiking in the forest and the animals.  Most of all the s’mores.  I remembered the s’mores and would sometimes make them grandpa style – in the microwave for thirty seconds, before the marshmallow exploded, leaving a sticky mess.

My first husband, my sons’ father, taught me everything that I still know about camping today, 30 odd years later.  He also taught me about fishing.  Over the years I’ve prided myself on those one match, one light, campfires, the proper soap, how to pitch a tent and how to eat like queens and kings in the forest.

With in a month after leaving husband number three (that was 18 years ago) I bought a Jeep Cherokee, a German Shepherd, and the tent, sleeping bag, pad, etc., that I still have today.  And went camping and fishing in the North Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains.  Finally then, I was back to myself.  When my sons, David and Brandon, came to visit we loaded down that Jeep with camping gear and mountain bikes and went camping out west of Cherokee.  I took along books about the ghost stories of the Blue Ridge and the kids, and others that they met, stayed up around the campfire the entire night, reading those stories.  I remember that trip as one of the best I’ve ever taken, even though David called me a sissy when I walked the bicycle up hills.  Hey, by that time I’d already proven my toughness and decided there was nothing more to prove.

I walked around the campground and checked on some new arrivals before sitting back down at my fire.  One of the young ladies from “next door,” brought me a plate of different meats and grilled asparagus on skewers and asked me to please have it.  That food lit up my eyes but I felt awkward also.  I knew that it would be considered rude to turn down her kindness and so gratefully accepted the plate and sat down at the fire to eat.  Each bite brought groans of pleasure.  Some people know how to eat!

Merced River after a snow storm.

People come and go so quickly.  I become a little attached and they are gone.  There was the family from Wyoming – the woman’s best friend is the mom of a photographer I met in the Tetons last year.  The three men from Canada with their sexy Canadian accents and questions about things to do.  The group who were looking for a wedding spot, the quiet couple who stayed for a week in their camper…the list is already growing long.  Last night I simply called for the weather report to appease fears of RV pipes freezing for a German couple and their daughter, who was in a second RV.  Later they brought me a delicious chocolate bar that came all of the way from Germany!  I am just being nice, trying to add to their experience….

And there was the Lewis family.  A particular delight.  A family of four in a small, hard-sided tent shaped pop-up.  They had their share of learning experiences – no water, dead battery, etc., and I was able to help them some.  I watched them go from being over-whelmed to staying an extra night and having their first campfire, which was one that anyone would be proud to make.  They left this morning and promised to be back in June.  Those are the kinds of stories that I love – the type where people overcome, conquer and then come to love being in the out of doors and want to come back.  Because we all own a slice of this thing called nature and all owe it to ourselves to enjoy it – and mostly to become good stewards for its continued survival.

Until a minute ago the campground was empty, except for myself.  Another family just arrived and are camping close by.

During some of the nights I have stolen away into the valley for some evening and night photography.

Yosemite Valley in the late afternoon.

Slight moonbow at Upper Yosemite Falls.

Full moon over Merced River.

I hope that you are able to derive some joy and excitement over my stay in Yosemite National Park, and that you too will want to visit someday.