Witnessing the thunderous crashing of waterfalls in every corner of Yosemite Valley is a rite of spring that excites countless travelers from around the globe. Observing the growth and decline of Cholock (the Native American name for Yosemite Falls) each year always leaves visitors yearning for more when this ephemeral waterfall goes dry in summer. I wrote this poem in 2010 but have recently edited it to reflect my feelings as my oldest daughter turns eleven this week. I was withholding its publication until I found an appropriate photo to accompany it. Yesterday, I had the opportunity hike the Upper Yosemite Fall trail and waited for the clouds to cooperate. I thanked them.
Cholock, why do you rush?
When I was an older young man, I would shout at waterfalls and their impetuous mist. Now I am a younger old man, So I quietly lament time lost in your exuberant wake. Cholock, why do you rush?
You appear when the first water breaks from the October sky. Your arrival is wildly anticipated and joyously celebrated. The earth shakes as you make your splash in this world. Autumn is your spring. Cholock, why do you rush?
You begin to swell with the melting winter snow, And you run before you learn to walk. Endless tears flow from your thunderous cries. You are loudest before you find your voice. Cholock, why do you rush?
You impatiently surge through life’s many turns. With boundless energy and unlimited growth, You flow everywhere and nowhere at all. Your prime arrives without direction. Cholock, why do you rush?
As spring turns to summer, your strength begins to fade. Without warning, your energy abandons you, And you are hushed while you retreat into an empty silence. Cholock, why did you rush?
Have you ever felt the pain of reaching for something so close to you, yet it remained just out of touch? A few years ago, I wrote a poem called “Tokoyee’s Regret”. Citing the legend of Tissiack, I wrote it from the perspective of her husband, Tokoyee after they were frozen in time for their misdeeds.
Yesterday, our group was atop Yosemite Point, and I gazed out at North Dome. I noticed how closely it sits to Half Dome but pondered how far away it truly is. As I studied the tears streaking down the face of Tissiack, it conjured memories of my poem and the lament Tokoyee must feel every day. This moonrise unfolded on my trip out of the valley so it seemed an appropriate time to reintroduce my story.
O crying woman, what have we done?
This hurt we share is deeper than the lake that caused our pain.
My great strength has left me, and I lay unmoved
Beneath that stone wall, is a warm heart that once held me
I know not if it still beats, or has gone forever cold.
We shared a heat that made us whole
Our lightning turned to fire, and in a moment, we were nothing
Punished for our madness.
I sit frozen with a hole in my heart as great as this valley,
and helplessly watch as you are trampled endlessly.
The great moon has awakened me as I fight to end this curse
I burn to hold you tight and feel your warm skin
To look into those pale lifeless eyes once more and stroke your sun burnt cheek
To wipe away the tears that fall endlessly and fill the river below.
We recently returned from an early season Yosemite Backpack Trip for three days along the North Rim of Yosemite Valley with warm April temperatures, cool nights, and snow covered trails. Spending time in wilderness allows a person to give their body and mind a respite from the monotony of their daily routines to discover unending beauty all around them. Beauty is a necessity for life. When we encounter its allure, it moves us and transforms our beings. On this trip, I was able to share an incredible experience with our guests who fully appreciated two nights away from their professional lives where we could count on one hand the amount of people encountered on our journey across the North Rim.
Wilderness has become home for me. I feel privileged to spend several trips each year in the Yosemite backcountry where I can rediscover myself from time to time. Waking up in wilderness is akin to hitting the refresh button on life. It is hard to explain unless you have experienced it yourself, but I will try to in the following passage.
Climb a Little Higher
It’s morning and I’m tossing in my tent. Restlessness is often a symptom on the first night as I’m always eager to start a new day. I venture out at morning’s first light while my new friends enjoy a peaceful slumber. I stumble out of camp and gaze at a hillside. This camp was chosen because we had a slightly obscured view of the Clark Range. Like all trails, it is window to a grander vista. Climb a little higher.
I approach some rocks covered in snow and make my way through some brush. Huffing and panting, there’s only one way to go. Up. Many peaks come into view; Clark, Gray, Red, and Merced. My excitement rises. Climb a little higher.
The tip of Half Dome is revealed, and the Clark Range is in full view. Birds are singing their morning anthem, and everything is right in this world. Although the appearing sun warms my face, I stood frozen for several moments. Covered in goose bumps, I could no longer contain my excitement or emotions. Tears welled in my eyes and a broad smile covered my face. Uncontrollable sounds of exhilaration emanated from my body as a lone tear stained my cheek.
“This was it,” I mused as I recalled a scene from a recent Ken Burns film about Yosemite called “A Gathering of Spirit” that featured a friend of mine named Shelton Johnson. In my favorite part of the film, Shelton described a woman he witnessed having a transcendent moment in Yosemite Valley that seemed almost comical but was extremely powerful. Here I was having my own transcendent moment and did not even attempt to hide the outpouring of emotions until a catharsis was reached. It was about 7am, and I had already experienced a full day. Halfway through this epiphany, it was realized that there was no camera to record them moment. This only enhanced the experience.
Scrambling down the hill was a simple task and felt like my two feet never touched the ground. We went on to share many special journeys throughout the following day and a half on the tops of Eagle Peak, El Capitan, and Yosemite Point. At various times throughout the trip, we were all equally moved by the impact of our environment. I am often amazed yet hardly surprised with the effect Yosemite has on the mind and body of all its visitors.
I returned the following morning with camera in tow to capture the scenery, but the images are only superficial. They serve as reminders of these magical moments and memory triggers to the emotional releases invoked by these special places.
Yosemite is calling and your ‘transcendent Yosemite moment’ awaits. Climb a little higher.
The waterfalls of Yosemite are still booming, but we must deal with the sad reality that we had a less than average snowpack year this past winter. subsequently, the volume is waning as the snow continues to melt. I took this photo recently and thought of a poem I wrote almost 3 years ago and will repost here. It seems our children are often in a hurry to grow up, and I thought of my then five year old daughter when I wrote this.
Cholock, what’s your hurry?
by John P. DeGrazio
When I was an older young man, I would shout at the youthful waterfalls and their impetuous mist. Now that I am a younger old man, I quietly lament valuable lost time left in their wake.
Cholock, what’s your hurry?
Like a newborn, your arrival is anticipated and celebrated.
Autumn is your spring,
And you appear when the first water breaks from the sky.
The earth shakes as you make your splash in this world.
You are impressive and a joy to all.
From infancy you grow as the winter snow melts,
And you run before you learn to walk.
Your impatience is felt by all as you rush your way through life’s many turns with a desire to grow bigger and bigger.
Cholock, what’s your hurry?
Why must you grow so fast?
Why can’t you stay small forever?
Your energy is unsuppressed and your youth is wasted
as you push and push to go everywhere and nowhere at all.
You are at your loudest before you even know what to say.
Suddenly, and without warning, your strength abandons you.
As spring turns to summer, you enter the winter of your life.
How did time disappear?
Why must everything end so soon?
Cholock, you are the fortunate one.
Your foolishness has been repeated over the centuries;
Yet, you are given a new opportunity with every October sky.
Your story will be overlooked by many,
But the wise will teach your lessons to their own.