Expanding Collaborations

From Ron Kauk, Executive Director

Part of my maturation and what I learn from the higher education I get through Yosemite is the appreciation of collaboration with diverse people. I used to collaborate mostly on climbing projects, but now my collaborations are expanding, such as through Sacred Rok.

A few weeks ago, I had an interesting day collaborating with four young men who are spending time in juvenile detention at Merced County, taking them around the valley. For now, until their time with probation is officially over, I will not identify them by name except by their first name initials – call them E.J.J.B. In any event, E.J.J.B. came up to visit with me for a day, escorted by George Garcia from the Probation Department who connects well with them.

We met in the morning at the El Portal Market, where I supplied them with backpacks and Patagonia parkas which were donated to us. We picked up some sandwiches, and went to the Cookie area, which I call my dojo where I work on my breathing going up familiar climbs. We walked slowly up to the cliff, and then I showed them my practice routine of moving up the rock. They quickly began feeling comfortable in the surroundings, moving some loose logs to sit comfortably while I went through my short demo. I went up, came down, and we talked. We could hear, as always, the sound of the Merced River down below, even though the sound is different depending on the time of year.

I wanted to take them next to the water, so we next stopped at Cascade Falls. One of them took a bold jump to a rock across the creek, made it, but then had a hard time trying to get back, eliciting laughter and reactions from the others. One simple lesson. It all felt natural, working to be themselves in this unfamiliar environment.

We next stopped at Fern Spring, where I always practice my ritual of honoring the Valley. I talked to them about the respect that I show for the place. We washed our faces, and drank the water.

El Cap meadow was next, where we stopped to have lunch. One of the guys kept leading us until we got to the riverbank in the shade of the trees. This was a relaxing place to sit, eat, and visit. The light and air felt special, this being early spring – it is always different depending on the time of year. One guy talked about his residence, waking up in the small cinderblock walls with no windows. I said these are my walls that I live in. We kind of laughed about it, subdued because we acknowledged the reality.

Looking up at El Cap, George made a comment that everyone absorbed: “No matter who you are, rich or poor, good or bad, you still got this,” as he was looking at El Cap. We all resonated to his humble tone. His words spoke to me because I instantly remembered how as a youth coming into the valley, how we really had to approach the rock with humility and sense of awe to give yourself force and discipline to make it up that 3000 foot rock safely.

My mind wandered to my youthful days. I pictured myself jumaring up a rope suspended 2000 feet above the valley floor in what they call the Cyclop’s Eye on the North American Wall. Connected by a single rope, connected by trust. That was a climb that started on a sunny and warm February day of a drought year when, during our second day on the wall, the first snowstorm of the year came in. We protected ourselves with some plastic tarp on Big Sur Ledge, made some tea. When the storm cleared, we struggled with icy ropes as we continued climbing. Then on the sixth day of the climb, another storm came in. We were saved by coming to a cave called the Igloo above Cyclop’s Eye, where we hunkered down to wait out the storm. The cave kept us dry. As the storm continued, the three of us made a monumental effort to finish the climb, struggling with the wet, icy cold conditions. This situation provided us with a test -- a test that took all the technique and common sense that we had, working together. This took us all day to climb the last 300 feet. When got to the top, the storm was finally starting to clear. I remember the beautiful sunset as the skies were clearing, and felt a powerful presence of nature, of vulnerability and respect. We got a fire going at the top, creating a deep feeling of rejuvenation with its warmth. This experience, which went through my mind as the six of us stood in El Cap meadow, really spoke to the state of mind of a teen, ready for challenges and adventure, and what a good positive experience that was. I felt that George channeled my thoughts exactly: “No matter who you are, rich or poor, good or bad, you still got this.”

After lunch, admiring El Cap from a distance, we wandered up to its base. Once there, they spontaneously touched the rock at the base.

We went over to the Visitor’s Center where I showed them the Miwok site for ceremonies, connecting them to the native realities of the area.

Some ice cream, a bouldering demo in the Camp 4 area, and then a walk to lower Yosemite Falls wrapped up the day. Even though we went to a lot of places, none of it felt rushed, and it allowed them to soak in the possibilities – the inspiration, creativity, abundance of Yosemite. I felt that even in this single day, we created a circle, developed a level of respect and equality that seemed to be important for all of us to feel the friendship and nurturing of relationships.

Yosemite is a special place, a powerful teacher and healer for the human psyche. It is the dojo where the art of being is practiced. I have never quite put it this way, but this day allowed me to appreciate the realization. Because of this day -- not being in a rush and energized by the place, with each person being able to say whatever -- we generated a circle and acknowledgement beyond words, from which we continue to draw strength.

We moved through the day together, sometimes going off on our own, other times coming together to take pictures and to share our inspirations.

A few days later, I visited them at their temporary “home” – officially called the Iris Garrett Juvenile Justice Correctional Complex – to check in on the visit. My friend Kenji also wanted to meet them to hear what impressions they took away from the day in Yosemite. So the six of us sat around a table in a windowless room at the facility, the sound of our voices echoing off the painted cinderblock walls. Mostly, the conversation can be characterized by the glow of warm feelings that remained from the day in Yosemite. They could hardly believe that they were chosen for the hike, and wanted more (we look forward to them…they will have another opportunity later in the month for a day hike, and then later in June, an overnight camping trip). When Kenji pressed them for words to describe how the trip was, simple warm words like “amazing”, “fantastic”, “joyful” came tumbling out. E. was simply lost for words, and said “what they all said” with a big smile, and they all laughed, the laughter echoing from the walls. They recounted their experience jumping over the river, walking to the base of El Cap and to lower Yosemite Falls, all described with positive emotion and sensation. These little experiences keep leading us to the next baby step.

As we left, Kenji handed them his card with his cell phone number on it, and I also wrote down my number to let them know to call us any time. We encouraged them to write their thoughts and stories to share with others, because we wanted to learn from them. We feel that we have life-long collaborators in these four young men, and look forward to learning more from what they are learning. They are the keepers of the rejuvenation of society, and putting nature into the fuel of their energy is how we hope to move us to the next step.