My defining moment of 2018 came in early June at 7,800 feet.
I had cleared a stand of trees and shrubs along a trail nearly 7 miles south of Kennedy Meadows near Sonora Pass. As I came into the open and glanced upward my mouth literally dropped open as a slight chill went down my spine. I took perhaps two dozen or more steps and stopped. I slowly scanned the horizon and started to do a 360-degree turn.
Words can’t describe what I saw. Kennedy Lake’s crystal blue waters were shimmering in the distance as the babble of a nearby creek provided background music for a duet sung by a pair of Clark’s nutcrackers with their familiar “khraaaa-khraa” call. On all three sides soaring from the greenest meadow I’d ever seen were granite peaks still wearing a patchwork blanket of winter snow. This was all against a backdrop of deep blue skies peeking out between massive cloud fluffs being carried eastward over the Sierra crest on the wings of a gentle wind.
It likely wouldn’t have been ingrained in my memory as strong, though, if a minute later a straggler with a group of Amish teen boys who were returning from an overnight backpack trip to Kennedy Lake hadn’t verified what I was thinking as he walked by.
“It’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen, isn’t?” he said while smiling broadly as he walked past me.
I smiled back agreeing in the affirmative. And then it hit me. It’s a beautiful world.
Now that may strike you as trite. Given that I’ve taken in a lot of inspiring views on hikes in recent years, it seemed to me like an obvious observation.
I stood there for a good five minutes after the teen had passed just soaking in what was before me. It struck a high chord in so many ways but perhaps the most important was the realization we hurry through life — even on hiking trips — so focused on the destination that we often never really realize the beauty around us whether it is in soaring granite peaks still being pushed skyward after starting their journey hundreds of thousands of years ago or in the people we come across.
Since then in talking with those that venture out into the Sierra backcountry from Kennedy Meadows, I was told the time of year my wanderings took me there is almost magical. I disagree. It is the real deal.
Too often we judge things and people not by beauty and grace but by less favorable attributes as we walk by. With people it doesn’t help that they underscore their flaws by being coarse.
All too often vulgar words are thrown about even when we don’t mean to be coarse. Vulgarity ends up masking what good there is whether it is a point we’re trying to make or even who we are.
It stops us from soaking in what we see or what is said.
Had the Amish teen that by chance passed me hadn’t stated the obvious that day I likely would have filed the view in my memory as just another day of hiking. And certainly if he had discolored the moment with a vulgarity or tarnished it with a coarse attitude, it would be that ugliness I’d recall and not the great beauty nature created.
It’s human nature that we remember the bad more vividly than the good. If someone changes your oil without incident and on time we rarely share how great their service was with anyone. But should they foul it up somehow or take three times as long as promised, we practically trip over ourselves to tell people how bad of an experience we had effectively, and perhaps unfairly, painting a sordid image of that person’s capabilities. After all even nature is not without flaws.
Like anyone else, I’m guilty at times of being too quick to toss words that not too long ago were considered bush league to use in public and, if uttered to a stranger, immediately defined you as trash. Now such words are tossed about as pennies given they have little value any more at emphasizing a point of rage and are used almost absentmindedly.
But much like Benjamin Franklin being attributed to coining the phrase “a penny saved is a penny earned” to market the sound concept of being thrift with money, the same can be true of words that convey the least value and that most of us would leave in a gutter much like a penny of little value.
We kid ourselves, however, if we don’t think pennies matter or the coarseness we toss about doesn’t make ourselves and the points we make seem less valuable especially in the ears and eyes of a stranger.
It’s a cop out to say it’s the times or the end result of trials and tribulations.
I doubt anyone could top what my grandmother Edna Towle dealt with: A child stillborn. A second child dying from botulism. And another killed after being kicked in the head by a horse. Being abandoned by an alcoholic husband to run a working cattle ranch in the Sierra foothills with nine children to feed and clothe at the depth of the Great Depression. Being swindled out of the ranch and having to start all over in her late 50s with three children still to raise and moving to town where she built a home with her own hands that, I might add, is still standing today while working not one but three jobs to make ends meet.
Throughout it all she dealt with the constant pain of arthritis.
If anyone had a right to be bitter and coarse, it was my grandmother.
Yes, she did get angry, but she kept any impulse she had to lash out with an acid tongue in check. Far from being docile in such situations she was what used to be called “stern” when the occasion demanded it.
Perhaps that was why when she was angry it carried much more weight than those today who think coarseness somehow is a clever and effective way to persuade someone or to express your dissatisfaction.
As I stood there mesmerized by what nature created at 7,800 feet on a pleasant June afternoon it reminded me of what my grandmother would say when talking about her one and only trip to Yosemite that she repeatedly shared was the most beautiful and inspiring place she had ever stepped foot. Her advice was you need to look past the ugliness of life so you can enjoy its abundant beauty and stop taking things for granted.
For her, that beauty was raising seven children, helping friends and strangers, and at the end of the day being able to have food on the table and clothes on their back while soaking in the little treasures such as the smell and look of a rose bush in bloom.
Too often we let coarseness — that of ourselves as well as that uttered to us — as well as the seemingly sameness life can be day in and day out at times plus allowing ourselves be burden by struggles such as a tiring hike blind ourselves to what is right in front of us.
And because of that, grandmother would admonish us to try and “be sweet” when conversing with others.
Today you might take that to mean meek and subservient but she meant it in no uncertain terms to be civil.
What great advice. Don’t discolor who you are or what you say or even with what you see by speaking and looking for coarseness. Be sweet.
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Journal or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.