From the time our children were very young, we traveled to Yosemite summer after summer. The first summer we visited the valley and saw the Ahwanhee Hotel, Yosemite and Bridal Veil falls and swam in the Merced River. Then we began staying at a place called Moore’s Redwoods in Wawona where we stayed in housekeeping cabins with a wonderful restaurant at the office building. We found a great, secluded swimming place along the river where the four girls (ages at that first summer were one, three, 12 and 13) could swim, slide down the rocks, walk up the banks to a red swarm they named ladybug rock and to a drawbridge you could jump off into the river. At night the bears made their rounds, dumping over garbage cans from house to house, and the girls would scream with delight as the sounds got closer and would wait to shine the flashlight down upon them from the porch.
And each summer we would make our pilgrimage to the Mariposa Grove just at the entrance of the park. The girls, my wife and I came to see this spectacular array of Sequoia trees as one of the most beautiful temples on earth. Walking through the pine-padded paths from the Grizzly Giant tree to the Faithful Couple to the Three Graces was a summer ritual we eagerly anticipated.
Then we moved farther into the park and traveled to Tuolemne Meadows, above the main valley, and we stayed in little canvas-covered cabins – four beds and a wood-burning stove. It was extremely cold at night, but the stars were breathtaking and after a day’s hiking you curled up in your sleeping bag and fell asleep before the logs burned out. The lodge at the campsite provided wonderful breakfasts and dinners and you took day hikes.
When the girls were little, we mostly spent the days at Lake Tenaya, a lovely lake nestled in a gorgeous glacier valley. After dinner at the lodge, the rangers told stories and led campfire songs. These were magical times and ingrained a love of the outdoors in all four girls that has deeply affected their lives. Sleeping under the stars and walking beside 2,000-year-old majestic trees permeates the marrow of your bones and, I believe, transforms your soul.
Not every family chooses such summer vacations, but in the America of private and higher-income public schools, the students are offered outdoor and environmental education programs; they take field trips to the mountains, ocean and deserts; they experience the natural world in a variety of ways. In the other America of inner-city and low-income public schools, the funds are not available for such programs and experiences. The deprivation is terrible – both for the individual and the nation. How are we to save the earth if we process through generations of students who have no relationship to the earth? You fight to preserve what you value.