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Short-short story

 

On the Trail in Yosemite

Copyright © Paula Friedman 2001. All rights reserved. “On the Trail” first appeared, as “The Little One,” in Earth’s Daughters 2001.

With probably only days until my own turn, I’d say these were the people but what I mourn more was (tritely enough) Yosemite, where as a young man I guided, but I remember most two times it pierced my soul.
       
One evening in the Valley, slipping from the cedars something glided, dark and huge like a creature of science fiction but finally I could see it was a bird, the head white and feathered; and then the great bald eagle flew across the sky, where, far above, hung the high country, the silence of boulders, limned glacier tarns.
       Words don't mourn.
       Somewhat stiffly, years later I was biking one spring morning, again in the Valley, for no particular reason below the cliffs, and decided to park and climb the trail to Yosemite Falls. These two women were approaching—grey-haired, my own age (somewhat over 50, then). One, who wore a fading blue tee-shirt over rather baggy jeans, asked “What, you decided to ride down?” I laughed and said “It’s harder going up but faster coming back," and they laughed too and went on. After locking the bike to one of those racks, I started out—there were about 200 switchbacks—and not far along, still among thick brush and darker rock, I caught up. The little one, the one who'd spoken before, apparently was short-winded and often had to rest. I decided to keep them company, at least part way, have some company myself; we got to talking. I explained how it'd been, how I'd been avoiding people, how I needed time off on my own.
       “You working too hard there?” the little one joked. I'd said I was from Seattle. “My office follows me too.”
       “No, it’s . . . emotionally difficult.” We kept puffing along, the whole time climbing back and forth up the stone-bordered trail.
       “What do you work in?”
       “Public health.” Then I decided to say it. “AIDS. I work with people with AIDS.”
       She said, “That’s hard.” She had a relative, it turned out, in the field.
       I told her I’d lost so many—that was how it seemed then—“but now my closest friend is dying, it's been going on and on, I needed to get away from it a few days.”
       The other woman gave the little one a glance, but I saw she pretended not to notice.
       Still, that little one was careful of her friend (whose name was Martie), and at every opportunity made sure that this Martie, a freckled lady who turned out to really be a quiet archivist, shared in the conversation. Where the path straightened and ran along a ledge, we all put on sunblock and those widebrimmed hats and took one another’s snapshots.
       “Uncool.” The tiny woman’s comment took me aback. Then I peered closer at the longish hair and no makeup—sure, this one could have been an ex-hippie.
       She caught my look, and pretty soon I was telling them (we were climbing again) what it was like, handling wounded in Nam, catching on to the waste of life there, and how much the protests back home had meant to certain of us.
       “Thank you,” I said, twenty-odd years later.
       She grinned back at me—and in the same instant, was laughing. She practically doubled over—leaning on Martie, who supported her, concerned—caught up in a sort of quiet hysterics. I must have looked stupidly puzzled.
       “Three old fogeys on the trail in Yosemite,” gasped the little one. “Having ’60s nostalgia.”
       Not far after this, there was a stretch where the trail got very slippery and rough, and I found myself giving them each a hand. Then they stopped and rested a minute. I surprised myself by halting, too, instead of going on.
       The little one said, “That’s good. I’m glad we've a companion of the trail.” That’s certainly one way I’d never seen myself—as a companion of the trail. As Dave would surely have been willing to attest. Even though I was there, finally, by his side.

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