Amazingly, in my past 36 years, not a single summer has gone without experiencing the magic of Tuolumne Meadows. For the last several years, I’ve been camping right next to the river. From the viewpoint that I have at the camp, many natural elements come into play that allow me to reflect on and appreciate my sense of belonging.
Camp has enhanced my own thoughts about connecting to the realities of nature. On most mornings, I wake up before the sun and build a fire. I sit at the camp table, make coffee while enjoying the comfort of the fire, simply observing the changing light bringing in the new day. This has become a profound experience which was inspired by my friend Corbin Harney, a Shoshone elder who passed away a couple of years ago. I visited him a few times at Tecopa Hot Springs where he had a healing center. Every morning he would do this – go out and make his fire before the light, and sing songs with his drum and bring in the new day as the sun rose.
I am realizing while watching these sunrises myself that this is a powerful time of day to acknowledge the beauty of the world we live in, and how it’s taking care of us. In a way, I feel I am finding my personal connectedness that seems to give me more energy and a stronger foundation to what it means to be human. It’s difficult to put such feelings and emotions into words, but these are some of the challenges we address at Sacred Rok.
Starting next week, I am going to get to share this experience with some of the Sacred Rok youths from Merced who will be at this camp, and I am excited about the opportunity. Four guys from probation will be coming up next week, and the following week, we will have a dozen boys and girls from foster care. Katie will be the camp manager, and for the foster kids trip, Nancy and Kenji will take their family summer vacation up here with us to help out.
The river is still flowing pretty fast. The wet winter put quite a snowpack up there, adding to the Lyell Glacier which hopefully will help it survive a bit longer in this period of global warming. The water here is amazing -- so near the source of the flow, part of the natural cycle of water moving through mother earth. This water that flows right by the camp, coming from the snowpack that was created by the winter storms from the Pacific, continues down Tuolumne Canyon. The water flows into the Hetch Hetchy reservoir, and is piped to the Crystal Springs Reservoir right through Redwood City where I grew up. I grew up drinking this very water that flows by me, reminding me of the great cycle of life.
In many ways, I was not that different from the Sacred Rok kids, never feeling like formal schooling was right for me, which is how I came to choose the path of education through nature, exploring its laws and order. This is also why I so enjoy connecting these young people to the meaning of the great circle of water. I am thankful for all that water provides us, and treat it with respect, every sip I take, every note I hear of the harmony that the river plays as it flows by me 24 hours a day.
My other ritual I want to share with them is the fire I make every morning as I appreciate the sunrise. From the campsite, the sun rises across the river. The metal campfire ring serves as a kind of instrument that allows me to mark the movement of the sun. It rises noticeably further to the south as the summer days go by, so that if I were to notch a mark, it would form a kind of sundial. I was talking about this with Kenji, and we marveled at how we were performing a microcosm of enormous human tributes to the sun, such as the Mayan pyramids of Chitzen Iza and Stonehenge. Between the changes in the arc of the sun and the flow of the water, we have a clock of nature that teaches us valuable lessons. We have to listen for those lessons, with awe.
Up in Tuolumne, I get to go visit old climbs and boulders, and I never tire of them. I might even say that the more familiar I become, the more I appreciate not only the beauty of the area but the continuing education that it brings. Each climb makes my body adjust differently, influences my breathing, shifts my psyche in a unique way. These are the new dimensions of climbing to me. Because the season in Tuolumne is so short, I appreciate these meditative moments even more.
From all these seasons and opportunities to move into some kind of harmony with the place, I see the parallels with our explorations with Sacred Rok on the philosophical plane, something that I hope to share with you in the coming months. I will not be getting these kids into climbing for a while yet, but I look forward to getting our natural curriculum to them through walk, talk, and time.