Summer came early, you might say, with Tioga Pass opening in late May, which offered a good long time for camping trips up in Tuolumne Meadows. On one of the trips our elder, Bill Tucker, brought up five Yosemite native young people between 11 and 16 years old. The morning started early. At first light, we got the fire going. Bill would walk over to the 6-man REI tent to tell the guys to get up. It only took saying it once. It was chilly out. They all walked out to the fire, some barefoot, some just in a T-shirt, eyes half open. It’s such a magical time of day, where the idea of waking up is profound with light brushing across the trees, the birds starting to sing, squirrels running around, deer crossing the river.
The morning talk is on. Having an elder to keep things in perspective was a good and powerful experience. Kenji, Les James, Bill and I had all met a year or so ago when we wrote about the native language and how to bring back the value and sacredness that comes with it, the connectedness of people. That ideacame to life in the morning. At some point in our morning talk about respecting life and how to work together, Bill would say to the youth to go to the river and make your offering to the water, the earth, your family. Then when Katie said breakfast was ready, Bill would have one of the guys say something about the food, to appreciate it. The same for dinner. Always taking a little time to honor life and what gives us life. This way of being together for our 3-night, 4-day set the stage for everything we did.
I learned a lot about staying true to our pace. It’s not a race or competition. Bill kept slowing the guys down, saying “Why are your heads down and walking so fast? You’re missing everything, like that falcon’s nest.” So we stopped and had a little snack and talked, yet getting to our destination Cathedral Lake anyway with lots of time.
Thinking about time, culture, language is so interesting. These are things that nature evokes. I would say it’s written in us, the rhythm of moving, breathing, staying in tune with the heartbeat. Recognizing the new day, listening to the harmony of nature, watching the sunrise – the youth resonate to these ways of flowing with natural time.
Adjusting to this rhythm first thing in the morning brings me back to a kind of healthiness for our being, you might say, the “being” part of human. This profound experience was helped by our elder who sees the value and importance of showing our young people how to greet the new day, something good for everyone. Tucker has always shared this, it’s just part of who he is, and it was an honor for us all to be together.
On another of our trips, Karen Rust, a teacher and counselor from Mariposa, came up again with some of her students. She offered the following reflections on the trip, which we share with you.
Flow of Friends (by Karen Rust)
Last winter Ron Kauk was able to come down for an assembly at the Mariposa Middle School. The 8th grade students were invited to experience the wonder of Yosemite through Ron’s stories and slides. Several of the students seemed magnetized by Ron’s presentation and came up to talk with him afterward. Ron had said to me that he was open to the idea of building relationships with a small number of local youth over time to see what would happen in its natural flow. These initial conversations led to these students participating in three separate outings in Yosemite during the late Spring, Summer, and Fall. Nearly a year has gone by, and these young people have come to know each other and their Yosemite backyard in new and exciting ways.
A group of five students has been able to spend one day in Yosemite last spring, four days in Tuolumne over the summer, and our last outing in late September on the Merced River. It was obvious to me on the YARTS bus on the way home from our last day together, that they had thoroughly enjoyed themselves, each other and their place. We had spent the better part of the day, wandering back and forth across the Merced, only covering about a quarter of a mile stretch of river. How many hundreds of times have I driven by this spot, and not even given it a glance?
During the day we ate lunch at the most exquisite granite table, imagining ancient groups like ours sharing food preparation, stories, splashing in the crystal clear water, (even in September in a drought year), eating together, balancing on log crossings, making driftwood art, and seeing a bear in the rocky crevices of the far shore. Ron Kauk has opened up an opportunity for us to immerse ourselves in the present and delight in it. How can we be totally alive to our senses when we are hurried and worried to death and dullness? In these little oases of outdoor living, we have been present with each other and our setting.
The four day stay in Tuolumne was a true highlight of the summer for all of us. The meals were simple, healthy, and the organic produce and oh so fresh. As a veteran backpacker and camper for 30 plus years, I am not accustomed to fresh produce at the campsite. The students were able to help prepare the meals and in one case, the understanding of how to prepare and include vegetables in cooking was life-changing for her. She said, “You know how we had the chicken meal on our last night and we used Grandma’s recipe plus the veggies; now we add veggies whenever we make it.” Our meal planner and Chef Katie added a key ingredient for healthy, balanced life together.
As a social worker/school counselor, I am increasingly aware of growing numbers of students that experience anxiety and depression. With the pressure in school to achieve standards, and the financial pressure on the families, it becomes all the more important to maintain a balance of self-care and family play. Five fourteen year-olds found themselves playing, creating, interacting, and challenging themselves physically beyond their expectations of themselves. One of the girls stretched herself physically when bouldering and learned, “Even if you doubt that you can do something, try it anyway. If you tell yourself you can’t do something, make it your mission to prove yourself wrong.” One of the guys challenged his negative self-perception, “Never doubt yourself and enjoy the moment, even if you think you are insignificant, keep an open mind and you will learn that you are more.” Thanks to the unique opportunity that these students have had with Sacred Rok, they have more vitality and motivation to explore beyond their borders. Isn’t that what education is all about?
We really want to thank Karen for collaborating with us at Sacred Rok. Her experience in backpacking and being in the Sierras have put her in a perfect position to bring the kids from Mariposa up here into Yosemite. These young people are now creating their own slideshow, which will help us learn more about developing long-term relationships and reflecting on our shared experiences. The potential is unlimited to follow education nature’s way. We thank all of you for your support and donations. These two trips we shared with you continue to inspire us to continue our original mission – to respect nature and through that to respect ourselves.