why are you here?

I interviewed today for another position here – a marketing job, similar in some ways to the one I left in Raleigh when I decided to move to Yosemite. A desk job. I talked to the manager, a native Californian, and he mimed being chained to the desk, asked me how do you feel about that? Then he asked, what if I asked you to write something you were extremely philosophically opposed to? What would you do? I ask everyone I meet in the interview why they’re here, what brought them to Yosemite. What rests underneath many answers is heartache, disconnect from a beautiful world. For many people, I don’t know at all, but we are connected over it. Something dragged us here, willing or not. My boss at the hotel here told me during my interview that she stayed in a summer tent her first winter here because she didn’t want a roommate. She said it was cold and lonely by herself. She’s still here, many years later. Yosemite does that – it grabs you by the collar, whispers in your ear. It’s a sweet and strange lover.

It’s finally proper fall here, real, real, real fall, yellow bursting from all corners of this sweet valley. It’s still in the 70s here today, but it’s been cold, so, so cold. They’ve been trying to get the ice rink ready for the past few weeks. In December, half the park will cross its fingers for snow so they can go work at Badger Pass. My heart and head are going wild again, of course. When I talk to my mom on the phone, she says maybe someday you’ll be a little less unpredictable. I don’t know who inhabits my body these days; it does not feel like any me I know.

But this is me now: I work at the front desk at the hotel here, welcoming people to the park, telling them about proper food storage for bears, showing them their rooms on a map. Each time I check in a North Carolinian, my heart swoons – we share our love for the mountains, for our favorite Asheville restaurants, for Wade Avenue in Raleigh. I’ve got my “why I’m here” shortened to a few tiny sentences. I love the job – I talk to people all day long, ask them where they’re from, find the common thread that connects us. I am my father after all.

I’ve been writing and taking pictures, but I haven’t shared much. It’s a weird existence here. One thing that has been invaluable here is my lack of internet. For the past three months, I’ve been nearly entirely unconcerned with the rest of the world. It’s something I never would have done myself, but it has been extraordinary. I have been present. I have witnessed the world breathing – the bright yellow sway of the trees, the way the rock faces seem to sigh. And I’ve fallen in love with the people here simply because I have been present.

I don’t know whether being here has restored or ruined my faith in humanity. Some of both, I think. Working at the front desk, the complaints are innumerable. But of all the things, the wifi seems to cause the most distress. On some level, yes, false advertising has made a mess of things, but I’m disappointed that we cannot seem to live without internet, even on vacation. We have lost our patience, the ability to witness the world as it exists. It won’t look the same twice.

There’s also unending possibility here. Who will I meet today? Where will they come from? Which hikes will I lead them to? I never heard a word about internet or cell phone signal at the stables – it’s irrelevant when you’re on the back of a horse. It’s irrelevant when you reach the top of Four Mile Trail. This is a place of remarkable beauty. I am so massively in love with it, and it’s only because I have had to be present here. I had to witness it. I had to live among these rocks.

Last week’s person: in his file, a note said “sweet guy!” He told me he was supposed to be in LA on business, but he drove here instead. No one knows I’m here, he whispered to me. I spent ten or fifteen minutes with him, telling him about my favorite hikes, my favorite places to watch the sunset. Before he left, he shook my hand, and it meant something.

I still wonder here what makes life meaningful, what gives it value. I think of the manager acting chained to his desk, smiling, joking with me, a near stranger. But now, here, in this breath, there are tiny things: the couple from Connecticut that I talked with about red fall leaves, the North Carolina man who walked through the lobby and said you know there’s snow in NC, right? Lucky, lucky, lucky.

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