Upper Yosemite Falls

Upper Yosemite Falls

LAST WEEKEND I went with my friend, Bill, to Yosemite National Park. The awesome beauty and grandeur of this natural wonder in the Sierras is so astounding that it almost hurts. It wasn’t the first visit for either of us, but like everyone else who has traveled here more than once knows, each visit produces its own astonishment.

I love to take photographs here, as is true of nearly all visitors since Ansel Adams and this weekend in early March was especially generous to those of us who made the trek into the wilderness.

Standing awe-struck at the edge of Mirror Lake I heard the sounds of three more photographers beginning to set up behind us. They hoisted tripods with heavy cameras and long lens, along with bulging bags of more equipment on their shoulders as they hiked up the trail to this scenic point.

Rock in Mirror Lake

Rock in Mirror Lake

I had just snapped a few shots of my own with my Canon A80, a 5 year old digital point and shoot, so it was with great humility that I spoke with a straight face to these determined outdoors men.

“Hey guys, don’t worry. I already got a great picture of that rock.”

I waited a moment for a laugh, or a smile even. Alas, my dry humor, lost apparently, in the serious undertaking that is photography at Yosemite.

Later, on Sunday afternoon as we reluctantly headed home we drove around a corner and saw a small crowd at the pull out, the last scenic view of the valley before the exit. Of course we jumped out too, and soon realized the photographer’s dream that we had stumbled upon.

I lamented only for a moment the fact that I was ill-equipped for the scene. The full moon rising, perfectly aligned over the Bridalveil Fall, was a glorious accent to the sun’s last stoke of light, glowing on the wall of granite above us. As I steadied my so-called camera the best I could, I took my picture and felt again the ache of ephemeral beauty.

Full Moon over Bridalveil Falls

Full Moon over the 620 foot Bridalveil Fall

Follow this link for more “great pictures” of Yosemite on my Flickr page.

This summer I planned a “Sta-cation” for two weeks in July. That is, a stay-at-home vacation. Taking some much needed time off from work but instead of traveling to some exotic place using up a few year’s worth of carbon credits, I decided to spend my vacation at home. After all, Berkeley is a delightful place. The Bay Area is many people’s idea of an exotic destination, so it seemed the perfect gift to give to myself.

Besides, with my son home from college for only two short months before going  off on a five-week backpacking adventure of his own, staying close to home gives me more opportunities to share in the rare moments I have with him. My brother and father who live in Houston also called to say they would come for a short visit during that time. I was more than happy with this low-key stay close to home summer vacation.

As it turns out, it is really fortuitous I didn’t run off to New York City and spend lots of money like I thought I might earlier in the year. Without notice, on July 2nd, two days before my relax-at-home vacation, my job was down-sized. I suddenly had an extended summer vacation. The publishing business has been hit really hard by falling ad dollars during this most recent recession. The Bush years have not been great for many citizens but the yoga magazine I worked on seemed to be doing better than most. Who doesn’t need unity and stress reduction and a great deal of hope during these times.

Of course I saw the signs. I was looking for a change anyway. I was just hopping I had a little more time. It was a shock nonetheless, and being laid-off is rarely a pleasant thing. I have been in this situation before. Several times before. In fact, in 2002, they called it a reduction-in-force (RIF). After the “work-force” in the internet search company I worked for was eliminated it took me 10 months to climb out of that situation and get a suitable position. I expect it will take a considerable effort this time around too.

Truthfully, I have to thank my former employers for giving me a kick in the pants. I needed to go. It was time for something new. If one is going to be laid off, summer is really the best season to be off work, IMHO. It is even better timing when, like me, I just started a new relationship with a really wonderful man who has significantly brightened up my life. Like I said, it was time for something new.

I feel I really am the lucky one. The one who got away. It reminds me of an old African American folktale series about Br’er Rabbit (Brother Rabbit) who was the trickster prone to much trouble-making, often matching wits with Br’er Fox he always found a clever way to win in the end. In the story I was thinking of “Br’er Rabbit meets a Tar Baby” Br’er Rabbit gets snagged in a sticky trap set by Br’er Fox. I first heard this story as a young child in Pennsylvania and its lesson has stayed with me. I can hear Br’er Rabbit now, plead mournfully with his captor…

“Oh please Brer Fox, whatever you do, please don’t throw me into the briar patch.”

“Maybe I should roast you over a fire and eat you,” mused Brer Fox. “No, that’s too much trouble. Maybe I’ll hang you instead.”

“Roast me! Hang me! Do whatever you please,” said Brer Rabbit. “Only please, Brer Fox, please don’t throw me into the briar patch.”

“If I’m going to hang you, I’ll need some string,” said Brer Fox. “And I don’t have any string handy. But the stream’s not far away, so maybe I’ll drown you instead.”

“Drown me! Roast me! Hang me! Do whatever you please,” said Brer Rabbit. “Only please, Brer Fox, please don’t throw me into the briar patch.”

“The briar patch, eh?” said Brer Fox. “What a wonderful idea! You’ll be torn into little pieces!” Grabbing up the tar-covered rabbit, Brer Fox swung him around and around and then flung him head over heels into the briar patch. Brer Rabbit let out such a scream as he fell that all of Brer Fox’s fur stood straight up. Brer Rabbit fell into the briar bushes with a crash and a mighty thump. Then there was silence. Brer Fox cocked one ear toward the briar patch, listening for whimpers of pain. But he heard nothing. Brer Fox cocked the other ear toward the briar patch, listening for Brer Rabbit’s death rattle. He heard nothing. Then Brer Fox heard someone calling his name. He turned around and looked up the hill. Brer Rabbit was sitting on a log combing the tar out of his fur with a wood chip and looking smug.

“I was bred and born in the briar patch, Brer Fox,” he called. “Born and bred in the briar patch.” And Brer Rabbit skipped away as merry as a cricket while Brer Fox ground his teeth in rage and went home.

Yes, I reckon I got the better deal. While I skip off enjoying my extended summer vacation getting on with a new and improved life, my colleagues are left to take on my old duties and suffer through the down turn with a kind of survival guilt. I wish my friends the very best. This wasn’t the way I wanted it to end. Autumn is not far away and its a fine season for change too. Be a clever rabbit. There are many tricks yet to play.

The summer of 2008 will begin soon. Howard’s May 3rd departure for Israel is chapter one. Here, Eli snaps a bon voyage pic on his cameraphone. LAX shines in the spectacles and the promise of adventure looms behind the smiles.

UPDATE: See the blog that Eli wrote regarding his 5 week trip through Europe and the Middle East at EliandaBackpack.

Howard returned to Israel in January 2009 for an even longer stay. He continues to share the curious, bizarre, and the mundane thoughts he has while living in Jerusalem at his Blog: HowardIsrael.