What I Did Over Summer: A Story Told in 12 Photos

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My family went to Yosemite National Park for the first time during the summer of 1985 when I was 9 years old. The entire gripping tale, down to every last detail, can be endured read above. Luckily I dated this puppy. I don't know why I wrote it on February 28 the following year, but it must have been a school project. Revisit the second sentence: ". . . we saw a mountain that looked like it had a nose." If you're clued into the Yosemite scene, you'll know that what we really saw was the large prow of El Capitan known as The Nose. Someday I'd love to retell the story of the first ascent that took place over two climbing seasons in 1957 and 1958 by a determined fellow named Warren Harding and his crew of hand-picked cronies. But this is neither the time nor the place.

We rode a tour bus through the valley. I was mistaken by what the tour guide said, which probably went something like, "And out the window you'll see the big rock wall called El Capitan, and this large end is called the Nose." I really thought this mountain did have a nose, even though I couldn't see it. All I saw was that 3000-foot-tall dominating chunk of granite and I was asking, "Where's the nose? Where's the nose? I don't see it." Despite never having witnessed it, I came home from Yosemite National Park in 1985 believing that there was indeed a mountain that had grown a real fleshy, snot-supplying nose. So I wrote about it in the 4th grade.

I graduated from Arizona State University in 2000. It was in that final year that I got to take a very strange collection of classes because I was on the path to nab a degree in English literature with a minor in history. The kind of stuff you can get away with when you're that age and on that path. One such class was called Writing and Being. In it, we wrote short personal narratives using different techniques and approaches every week. We then read them aloud in class. Lynn, the instructor, would have us make a circle with our chairs, and we'd each sit, read and listen. The person reading would hold a Navajo talking stick as he or she read. It was a piece of old juniper cut from some place on the Navajo rez rubbed smooth from years of being passed around feather circles and, yes, it had been decorated with a number of leather wraps and dangling feathers. The point was whoever held the talking stick had earned the right to read and be respected. Lynn has since retired, but I still use the techniques and approaches to crafting narratives that I learned from him. He's out there somewhere.

While I was taking that class, I found this old, long-forgotten writing of mine from 1986. I love that it's so full of disappointments. We started a hike but turned back. I wanted to ride a horse, but dad unilaterally declared, "No."  And then there's that great misunderstanding about mountains that grow noses. It moved me at my ripe, wise age of 24 so I used it as a title for my portfolio in Writing and Being. Mountains with Noses. It's probably a terrible, sentimental title no one would ever understand. Certainly not the way I do. I see it like this: the natural world is alive and mountains could very well breathe. Certainly. Garrison Keillor is credited with saying, "Stones and trees speak very slowly and may take a week to get out a single sentence." One day I'll die. And when I do, I want to remember my times in the mountains, in the rivers, in the canyons. I'll likely have forgotten my beliefs about President Obama's American Jobs Act or my desire for a new road bike.  Mountains, on the other hand . . .

If there's anything I've learned, and one thing many of us could agree on, it's that looking back is one of the best ways to move forward. The old "What I did over summer vacation" exercise is a good one. So I'm taking a page from my 1986 self's writing project and doing it all over again. I'll pick up a talking stick, if you'll let me, and share with you some things that happened this summer. These are my mountains with noses. This time with pictures. This time I'm a little bit older. This time I'm a better writer. Arguably.

We tiled the house. And we learned this is harder work than you can imagine. Unless you've done it. No big Baja trip for us this summer. No backpacking in Glacier National Park. No cycling along the Danube River. No moonlit desert canyons. Just this.

Truthfully, I shot this in late April. Brooke and I took a weekend up to the mountains without our children - yes, that's children. You might know about our 3 year old daughter Chloe. But we also hosted a 16 year old girl from Ukraine, Ania (read about her here), for the whole school year who, as you can imagine, became a part of our family by osmosis. The two girls stayed with Brooke's parents for the weekend. The guitar, on the other hand, went with us. Thank you very much.

It was Ania's requirement that we visit Grand Canyon one last time before she went home to Ukraine after living with us for the year. So we went and camped walking distance to the edge. And few things are as magical as watching the canyon and the wildlife that lives there. Some people think it's just a big hole. Sigh. They're right, and they're wrong.

More rivers. I'm just so glad this little one enjoys playing in wild rivers and hiking dirty trails with little ol' me.

Hiking to hot springs located in the wilderness is a hit-and-miss endeavor. While I agree with the message, I find it wryly amusing that this graffiti sign is painted on a wall at an abandoned hotel in the middle of nowhere. Trash is bad. But graffiti is okay if it's artful, even if it's not your property?

Hearts carved into the bark of a tree aren't much different from graffiti. But this one was all alone, making it seem sweet and innocent rather than cliché and overdone. Here's the question: is that two hearts or one?

This old hotel was abandoned in 1962, but the hot springs are still there, of course. It's about a mile hike one way along the Verde River.

Chloe thinks geocaching is a load of fun. Although we actually call it "treasure hunting." It was just the two of us for this weekend, and we hiked and hiked to find this geocache. I spotted the cache, but let her pull it out. She's stoked.

Let me tell you, a dad who has a rope and can spot the right kind of branch will become a little girl's hero.

That's a herpetologist on the left. He guided a hike and snagged up a few lizards to show the kids. A moment after this, the lizard leaped from his hands and landed on Chloe's head. She cried. But when I tell her the story about it, she'll laugh.


These last two are my girls. And the photos speak for themselves.


+1 / 0
# joe 2011-09-09 15:29
Okay, where is that abandoned hotel? Please email me the details!
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0 / 0
# mark 2011-09-09 16:50
You got it.... hang tight.
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+3 / 0
# Lindsey 2011-09-12 20:14
That letter is AWESOME! Too bad your Dad was afraid of horses... ;) Awesome pics. Oh, and that's 2 hearts.
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0 / 0
# Mark 2011-09-23 13:31
HA! So glad you liked the letter.
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+1 / 0
# Robb 2011-10-05 22:19
Excellent Mark!
Having tiled a fair amount of our house, it is one job that makes you appreciate your real job...
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