Spring has arrived and with it Sacred Rok is excited to be starting off another year of continued relationships with young people in Yosemite.
The start of the year found me at the Emeryville headquarters of Clif Bar, participating in their weekly company meeting as the invited guest of their founder, Gary Erickson. Gary and I share a friendship that goes back many years, and interestingly enough, we were born on the same year and day. We are connected in our appreciation for the Sierras and nature in general.
While I went about my life as a climber, Gary has shaped his company on sustainability and respect for nature, so in a way, it was natural for him to be excited about Sacred Rok, and he invited me down to the company to talk about our mission, and to celebrate our collaboration on the new packaging for the Builder Bar, in which he used an image of me.
My visit to Clif Bar showed a good example of what the world of business can be when there is respect for the natural environment, which provided for the business in the first place. The company environment is amazingly happy, a dog-friendly, open space created from natural and recycled materials with exercise and relaxation areas, a child care center, and a great kitchen. Being there I saw what they mean about building a business and brand through their values of commitment to the planet, the community, and their people. Gary has inspired me to consider what is possible with a good collaboration of people who have diverse talents.
I got to continue my conversation with Gary as we drove together north of the Bay Area to St. Helena – Velo Vino – which he and his wife Kit Crawford started. There in the company of a nice gathering, Gary and I did a presentation about our shared adventures and I got to talk about my life as a climber and, again, about Sacred Rok. It was an exciting evening to feel the response and support of many people who could relate to our story. After these two events, Gary and I were talking and we agreed that our theme of the past few days was “What does it mean to be human?” What is the true meaning of education? That’s our commitment, to understand the true meaning of education. Everybody agrees we have to have a good education, but our definition of education needs to be challenged — otherwise why are we polluting the air and water and blowing each other up?
Trips with Young People
Thanks to support from Clif Bar and our other partners including United Way of Merced and North Face Explorer Fund and many individual donors, we have continued to have a steady stream of trips, working with the Boys and Girls Club of Merced and the probation department. In one of the recent trips, four young people came up for the day on the YARTS bus, and Katie and I took them to Cascade Falls for lunch, where one of the boys announced that he could spend all day right there. Just “being” in Yosemite can be as simple as learning to relax and be inspired by the nature and the beauty, stimulating the senses and remembering how to be human.
After Cascade, we stopped at Fern Spring where we looked at the water coming up through the ground and filled up our bottles. How interesting it is to observe how naturally the young people are drawn to the water… I stood marveling at how profoundly powerful the expression of this spring is when we stop to acknowledge the reality of it — this water has been held under the earth and surfaces at the entrance to Yosemite Valley. We stop here not just for the water but to reference the sacred nature of the place. In acknowledging this spring it helps to orient our group to why we are here and what we are doing. From this point it helps harmonize and synchronize ourselves to the surroundings – the river, the trees, the rocks, the breeze, the birds — all of this is the curriculum, the greatest teacher is nature, and my job is to be the facilitator. When the young people reach down to the water and put it on their own face, a connection is being made. And when we recognize the value of water we come to respect and acknowledge it as our life source.
One of the probation youth on another trip up the Yosemite Falls trail – possible in this dry winter — wanted to know how far the trails go, and when I told him that these trails go for hundreds of miles in different directions, he said, “I just wanna keep going.” The way he said that was a really strong expression of his sincerity and the inspiration that he was getting as we went up the trail , and the way that he said it made me feel that we are on the right track.
The Moon and the Sun at the Cookie
As I was preparing to climb up the cliff the other day, I noticed the moon rising over the mountain to the east, but I was still feeling the sun setting in the west. After climbing about 200 feet, I came to a foot-wide ledge, where I turned to face the canyon. I’ve been coming to this cliff – the Cookie – at the entrance of Yosemite since age 15. I know this place well, and call it my sacred space.
This moment was powerful. I felt as though I stood suspended between the moon and the sun on this one-foot ledge on earth, overlooking the flowing river with its own history. This moment signaled to me what I mean by learning, and summarized what the great teacher – the earth – has taught me over time by the feeling of the wind and the sound of the river – it’s all based on learning to develop relationships through appreciation.
I guess not every climber would think these thoughts at the Cookie. Later on at the base of the climb, I mentioned my experience of being between the sun and the moon to two climbers, who appreciated my sentiments but remained mostly excited about their climbing (I can understand that). My thoughts that day go back to my early exposure to the mountains when, as a 14-year old, I was given the opportunity to have three solo days in the midst of a 20-day backpacking trip, giving me the time to observe the stars and the flickering light on the boulders from the campfire. My interpretation of the experience at the Cookie has a very long history, and one that probably goes back to the very fabric of being human. Being in Yosemite as a climber and year-long resident for most of the past 36 years has inspired me to try to understand what it means to be human, and what it means to relate to the privilege of being in this beautiful place. I am still moved, even after all these years, with this sense of wonder.
- Ron Kauk
Message from the Board Chair
In reflecting on how far we have come since Kenji and my conversation with Ron at Inspiration Point in November of 2008, I am gratified for the generous support of so many – individuals, foundations, corporations — in helping Ron to realize his vision of education nature’s way. Thanks to your support, we have matured as an organization, and have been able to share the wonders and healing power of Yosemite with young people through day trips and camping trips. We have built ongoing relationships with many of these young people through our ability to bring them on multiple trips, and they continue to keep in touch with Ron. Please check out our annual report on our web site if you haven’t had a chance to read it yet!
- Nancy Goodban