The End Times of Yosemite Dan

On the first of December, 2017, I entered Yosemite National Park for the second time.

My inaugural visit to the park had been just that – a visit, as a tourist.

Five years later, I was about to become a resident.

That was seven very short, very long months ago. Back when the days were winter cold, the nights all layer upon layer of stars, the waterfalls abundant and full, an ever-present roar behind the call of ravens and Steller’s jays.

Now we’re deep into a scorching summer. The falls fade fast. The mountains blur out behind a choking veil of smoke. The sun burns red. Not far away, the woods just straight up burn. Wildfire has come to California. The park’s crowds of sightseers thin. The humidity overwhelms the Majestic Hotel’s walk-in refrigerators, forcing hundreds of pounds of refugee food into cramped trailers on the back docks.

Aesthetically, it all looks rather like the end of the world.

Realistically, it’s only the end of my time here.

My Tirzah left for Fresno a month ago, and with her departure came a familiar feeling. An itch of entrapment. A need for escape. The lonely ache for home that’s only ever further from reach when she’s gone from my side.

It was time to go.

Well, first it was time to find Fresno employment, so I wouldn’t be ditching the park and an income all in one go.

‘Twas a frustrating job hunt. Blame it on my curse: For whatever I most desire, I am forever doomed to call into the void, often without so much as an echo in response.

But finally, a former manager of Tirzah’s hired— well, not Me so much as Tirzah’s Highly Recommended Friend. I shall simply have to show my new boss why employers are always bummed to see the back of me. Lord knows my current manager is loath to let me go.

Most Valuable Employee tweet
Narrator: “Alas, her flight was to be none so swift and easy…”

And part of me is sad to leave the Yosemite I’ve come to know. I’ve seen her blanketed in snow, spilling over with floodwater, playing in the wind. I’ve wandered her pathways and rivers, climbed her boulders, crossed her fallen trees. I’ve smacked her mosquitoes and painted her ducks. I’ve treasured every rainbow she gave me.

Yosemite Watercolor, Mine_Rivertime
“Rivertime” –  Deshipley, 2018; watercolor, painted en plein air in Yosemite National Park

She actually gave me many things – memories chief among them.

And independence.

Resilient courage.

The reassurance that no matter how life’s challenges flatten me, I’m tough enough to eventually rise up for more.

Also, hella biceps.

There is much I’ll miss. But I’m ready to move on. Ready to leave Yosemite Dan behind, and be… still me. Just, as of next week, planted somewhere else.

Next chapter ho…

Open Journal: Home is… Where?

My sad, stressed-out brain, one morning at work: “I want to go home.”

Me: …

Brain: …

Me: “What home do you mean?”

Upon reflection, I didn’t mean my Yosemite tent-cabin – although, without another six hours to go on the clock, I’d have gratefully settled for that.

That was before the employee housing office handed me and Tirzah a third roommate – who is, first impressionally, a not unpleasant young lady. But to my highly sensitive, germophobic, and socially anxious self, no space I have to share with an outsider is strictly safe. And if I feel unsafe, how can I feel truly at home?

For ages, home was my parents’ house. It had my stuff. My food. My family.

Many a dream transported me back to the condo called home for my first seven years – to the patio off the living room, and its view of the pond with its willows and ducks.

Most fond memories take place in the little yellow house that followed – three years of horsing around in the basement; making crafts during cartoons in the TV room; more hours of playing, writing, and learning on the computer than you’d think a single day could hold.

Then the place I’ve lived the longest – our Victorian beast in a Michigan-shore ghetto. The house that first gave me my own bedroom, and (after years of begging) a dog. The heavy sliding doors that compartmentalized half of the first floor. The kitchen too laughably small for all five of us at once. The stuffy attic braved only for necessities like fancy clothes and drum practice. The computer room with its cantankerous printers. The sun room with its karate-sweat mats and invasive ladybugs. The driveway that never seemed longer than in winter, when it was covered in snow and the blower was busted, so out came the shovels, day after day.

Photo Shoot Stairwell
Not to mention my favorite photo shoot stairwell.

This was home. Until I outgrew it. There is – and is no – going back.

On vacation, home’s wherever you happen to leave your bags. The hotel or hostel or guest room you ditch to explore and to experience; to shop and sightsee; to get sick of your companions, all your good times saved for later in Polaroidsdisposable camerasdigital cameras … selfies. Then back you go, to flop wearily onto questionable comforters, surfing through the local channels for anything fun or familiar, wondering where dinner’s coming from – head back out, or order in? Depends how sunburned, waterlogged, footsore you feel.

That room’s your home base, ‘til the traveling’s done. But you know it’s no more than a placeholder.

I called Germany home, however half-true it was. (The forest truer than the house shared with [never mind him].)

I called that apartment behind a Chicago store home, however temporarily.

I may sometimes call home the down-the-mountain destination for which Tirzah and I fight public transportation every weekend. Her parents’ home. Where I happened to leave most of my bags.

Me: “Is that where you meant? Or there? There? Or there?”

Brain: …

Me: “Well?”

Heart: “You know where we mean.”

I don’t know exactly where. I don’t know precisely when. But what is meant, I know.

Home will mean my stuff. My food. My Tirzah.

Safety. Privacy. Solitude.

Adult annoyances, doubtless. Rent, utilities, homesteader headaches.

Not all of it fun. But all of it ours.

Mine.

That place at the end of your vacationexile … odyssey,

where you stagger in late, let your bags drop for the last time,

and breathe.

NaNoWriMo, What Are You to Me?

2010: The year I was first told of you, at just about October’s start. The year I stepped out with no expectations, just a challenge I was itching to meet. 50,000 words, 30 days. A longer book than I normally wrote, but not too terribly intimidating, since I went in with a plan.

NaNo '10 Cover PicAn idea inspired by my home Ren Faire’s Robin Hood. The delightful discovery that my Merry Minstrel was descended of none other than Gant-o’-the-Lute. My main character and I getting to know each other at the same, adventuresome pace. A side character in scarlet, willing and eager from Day 1 to step up to the plate and deliver whatever I needed. A girl and her Thief Lord lurking foxlike in the forums.

My first NaNoWriMo, you were the one of new beginnings.

2011: The year I set you aside for psalm-making. A poem or song a day, working to heat up my sub-satisfactory spiritual life with my fiery passion for words. A more solitary endeavor, followed by a December of drafting a novel just past the official month of writerly hoopla.

Inspired Mock Cover

It was half like having two NaNos, and half like having none at all. And in the end, I’d managed a bit of soul food and the first iteration of my debut published novel, INSPIRED.

My second NaNoWriMo, you were the one of faith in treasure yet unseen.

2012: The year I upped the ante, trying for not one novel, but two, in addition to my trip to California – to Tirzah, and to San Francisco’s Night of Writing Dangerously. Memories of starting precisely at midnight – a frustrating false start, with a voice I was too tired to get quite right. Of starting over, moving on stronger, pushing myself to cover ground as fast as perfectionism allowed. Of struggling to focus even as I got my hair did [sic] in braids so I wouldn’t have to fuss over it while I was out of town.

NaNo '12 Cover Pic

Novel One cooperated, wrapping up in a demented 12 days. Novel Two… oh, Novel Two, who knows when I’ll ever finish you? In my defense, you lied to me, but that’s another story, perhaps for another day. Between being led on a wild goose chase by a petulant protagonist, the glorious distraction of my best friend at my side, the lure of my heart’s city, and the overawing shindig that is THE NaNo write-in, I may have produced the words, but they were nothing like a novel.

My third NaNoWriMo, you were the one that defied all expectations.

2013: The year I couldn’t settle on a project. It was not for any lack of ideas. New concepts came and went, replaced by yet more, no sooner decided upon than abandoned for— for what? Something better? It didn’t have to be better. It just had to be right. And nothing at all was speaking to me. Nothing was singing to my discontented soul.

NaNo '13 Cover Pic

Three hours to the midnight kickoff, and I still wasn’t sure, but there wasn’t time, so I chose almost at random from the string of ideas I’d played with for a month. So close to the deadline, I was a mess of nerves, fearful of repeating the failure that was NaNo ’12, Part 2. Rarely has the blank page seemed so full of potential doom. But the words came, and with them, the story. And within that story, I released the kraken.

My fourth NaNoWriMo, you were the one as changeable as the sea.

2014: The year I mean to see my way to the conclusion of the Wilderhark Tales. The first new Wilderhark Tale I’ve written in years, the others close to completed when I decided to take the plunge and publish. For the first time, I’m working under the burden of expectation, and in the countdown leading up to the event’s start, the pressure was driving me nuts, to the point where I said to myself, “Y’know what? Screw this. The only way to be less nonsensically afraid of this thing is to just start writing it. And NaNo is not the boss of you. Now’s neither the time nor place to be the punctilious rule-follower you’ve ever been. Put on your writer pants and seize the day!

So on Wednesday, October 29th, I branded myself a NaNo Rebel by starting work on the book’s opening chapter.

My fifth NaNoWriMo, you are the one I reclaimed as my own.

NaNo was made for the author, not the author for NaNo. I don’t know what surprises are in store for me this writing month, but as far as victory is concerned, I’m already feeling like I’ve won more than the certificate waiting at the end of it all.

Who out there is sprinting toward the finish line with me? ^^