Go to Episode #9
Jacob’s Exile (Early May 2019)
After walking back to Milago from the realtor, Jacob packed his equipment and drove east from El Portal. The rolling, tree-covered hills gave way to a dramatic carved terrain of gray igneous folds and pinnacles. He rolled down his window to hear the thundering Merced, almost flooded by the spring thaw.
His phone rang. He slowly glanced at the caller ID. “Hi, Ron…Good… I’m gonna hike a few hours and put my finishing touches on the presentation… Yes, I am very excited… See you at the Chapel Gallery at noon.”
After a sharp bend in the road, he was suddenly blinded by a fast-moving cloud that looked like dirty snow and sounded like sleet. He hit the brakes, barely avoiding a collision with a large truck that had stopped. Clusters of people were running toward him, coated in gray dust like a scene from 9/11. Picking up his phone from the floor, he said, “Are you still there, Ron… I just had a run-in with a rockfall. I’ll call you back.”
He parked his truck and began to walk toward the tempest. Seeing what appeared to be a person lying on the ground, he ran through the debris cloud and came upon an older man who resembled someone who had been hit by a bag of mortar mix. Laying near the man was a piece of granite the size of a basketball. His head was bleeding above his ear and mixing with the gray powder. His eyes were closed, but he was breathing.
“I’m Jacob, sir. I’m going to wait with you until help comes.”
“Where am I?” the man asked.
Jacob held his hand. “Yosemite Valley. You’re going to be OK. Just keep talking. What’s your name?”
The old man mumbled something incoherent. Jacob took off his shirt to shield him from further dust.
“Jacob… Dad told me about you.” The old man took a deep breath, seeming to struggle. The pool of blood next to him was starting to flow toward the road.
“Dad said… He said you are a chiseler—a schemer…” The labored breathing continued. “That bastard bribed his brother and deceived his old man.”
“I don’t know your dad, sir. I’m sure he was a good man.”
The man moved his lips, but Jacob heard no words. Then a cough. For a second injured man’s voice thundered: “But you know Dad… God stayed with that conniving son of a bitch!”
Jacob lay next to him and embraced him, feeling the pulse fade away. He heard the sound of feet crunching toward him.
“Excuse me; I’m a doctor. Can I take a look at him?”
Jacob let go and stood up. “He’s gone.” He walked toward his truck and pulled out his phone. He tapped the number from the previous night from the missed calls list, the number he once called home. As his call rang, he squinted in the hovering dust cloud. No answer. Voicemail box full.
Jacob retrieved his backpack from his truck and began to scale the unstable pile of fallen rock, still settling and shifting under his feet. The debris was about the height of a three-story building. The lingering powder created a veil before the early morning sunshine. His nose filtered some of the dust. He spit out some of the paste that accumulated and called Carrie. “Hey, I just about got killed by a damn rockfall! I’m OK… But I’m gonna have to hike into the gallery. Five miles, but that’s quicker than two-plus hours by way of Oakhurst. There’s no way I’m missing this opportunity… If you’re still at Wawona, can you come down into the valley and pick me up later today… Thanks. Talk to you later. “
Men below him were yelling. “Sir, that mound is unstable. Please come down!” Jacob disregarded them and descended the other side as fast as he could.
He saw a few cars covered in grime. After checking each and determining that no one was injured, he left the road and took a trail that gave him solitude. He came to the gates of the valley, where the ancient glaciers stopped and left their boulders. To his right was a waterfall dropping from a hanging valley. On his left stood El Capitan, an immense granite monolith, taller than any skyscraper on earth.
He pulled out his phone to take a selfie and saw his sandy sweat. Noticing the time, he picked up his pace—occasionally running, which made his pack bounce. A few minutes later, he felt his phone vibrate. He put it on speaker. “Scarlett? How the hell are you?”
“Hey, little brother. I got news… About Dad. I heard he’s dying.”
Jacob stopped walking and tried to take it in. “I feared this… You said you heard he’s dying? Don’t you two talk?”
“That’s another story. What he did to me is unforgivable.”
“Dad called me last night,” Jacob said, “but I didn’t pick it up in time. This morning I tried, but no answer. Who told you he was dying?”
“Uncle Homer. I’m not sure how he found out.”
Sitting on a fallen tree, Jacob said, “Homer? Holy Shit.”
“I know. You better get out here and get your inheritance. It’s too late for me.”
Jacob looked back at the rockfall, then paced back and forth. “You think I’m motivated by money?”
“Well, you haven’t been ‘motivated’ to visit in a while.”
“I’ll be there, inheritance or not. Can you try to find out more and call me back?”
“Will do,” Scarlett said and ended the call.
Jacob looked at his watch again and hurried along the trail. A storm appeared to be brewing.
As the downpour began to dissipate, a white steeple came into view. Jacob was soaked. But the rain, rather than washing him, just created a mud from his sweat and the dust from the crushed granite of the rockfall. His hat wilted. He was a bit hunched over by the weight of the camera pack.
The wood exterior of the Chapel Gallery was painted red with gold trim around the windows. He entered the small vestibule, slowing down to look to his right at a bronze statue of Jesus hanging from the cross, tarnished nearly black. The face appeared to be melting with anguish—right at eye level with Jacob. He quickly looked down, then turned completely around, his back to the statue.
Before him, adorning the wall was a large black and white print—a signed Ansel Adams original labeled “Moon and Half Dome, 1960.” The dome’s curve was not apparent—just what seemed like a match between the lunar surface and the granite icon, a symmetry that gave the image an abstract quality. With its textured sheets of granite, the face of Half Dome emerged from a dark shadow, receiving illumination—just as the lunar surface did.“Tissiak,” Jacob said softly and closed his eyes.
“Jacob?” a voice asked from inside the sanctuary.
He didn’t acknowledge or open his eyes.
“Jacob, are you ready?”
A few more seconds. “Oh, Ron. Yes.”
“Looks like you are wearing the rockfall. You OK? Do you want to wash up?”
“No, I’ve kept you waiting long enough.”
“All right then,” Ron said. “By the way, I’ll be hosting a happy hour at the main lodge after the presentations are done.”
“I’m not really a drinker,” Jacob confessed. “Well, not at all. Sober almost ten years.”
Jacob walked toward the front of the former church. The hardwood aisle ran between rows of pews painted glossy white. About fifty people were gathered under a vaulted ceiling with exposed oak timbers. Ron walked onto the stage behind a large wood pulpit engraved with winged creatures that looked like gargoyles. Behind him was a basic wood altar with candles and cinnamon incense burning, and behind that, a floor-to-ceiling cross made from copper tubing with a pale green patina.
“Today,” Ron, opened, “we have the privilege of hearing from one of our new instructors. I’ve enjoyed his travel writing for several years, and I’m eager to support his move into more poetic work. Let’s give a warm welcome to Jacob Peterson.”
As the audience applauded, Jacob set his pack on the altar, reached for his journal, and took his place behind the pulpit. His wet and dirty hat was still on. During the rain, he’d taken his hair out of the ponytail but had not combed it. He had the appearance of a disheveled wizard. His shirt now even wetter under his arms, he began to speak. “Thanks for having me. Sorry I’m late. Rockfalls can have that effect.” Not able to find his glasses, he asked, “Does anyone have a pair of readers?”
A young woman in the front row reached up and offered hers, big round lenses, with a purple tint.
“Thank you,” he said, putting the spectacles on and sliding them down his nose a bit.
“Ron asked me to tell a bit of my story,” Jacob continued, looking through his notes, trying to find something. Stepping away and looking down at the floor, he said, “It’s hard to say what my story is…Uh, ever since I was a kid, I’ve been drawn to Yosemite Valley.”
Someone from the back said, “Can you speak louder?”
“Sorry. This is an unusual gallery space.” He looked behind him at the cross and down at the pulpit. “I was saying, I’ve always been drawn to the Valley!! Is that better? I’ve made ten or so pilgrimages. Obviously, there’s the physical beauty. But this valley is sacred! I mean, it’s going to the holy land! The glory of it!”
He became animated and louder than seemed necessary for a small space. He was waving his hands in the air. “But there’s something more. My mom used to say… uh, she would say, ‘The trees will sing!’”
He paused, then repeated the phrase operatically and threw his hands up as if he was conducting an orchestra.
“I would ask her what she meant. She said it can’t be explained—only experienced. I’ve heard the trees sing. But I’ve always wondered if it was what she heard. I never got the chance to ask her.”
“So, that’s my story—listening for the trees to sing and looking for portals of beauty. They do exist!!
Feeling a bit too vulnerable, he stopped for a second.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to preach. This space kind of brings it out. I’m going to read from the book I’m working on.”
I pass through a tiny village named El Portal, Spanish for “the gateway.” I come to the valley, and it, too, has gates. On the south side, a waterfall called Bridalveil abruptly drops from a hanging valley. On the north side, a stately granite monolith thrust up from thermal places confronts me.
Jacob looked up from the book, took off the purple glasses, and began to recite as if from memory: “This sentinel is known as El Capitan, more than twice the height of the north and south towers of the World Trade Center, which was still under construction the first time I was here, in those early years of optimism.”
He closed his eyes and held his hands out, palms open: “This deep and wide valley, the result of ancient glaciers, slowly scraping the granite, left in certain bands a smooth and glossy polish. Close to losing self-awareness, I am pulled out of my anxieties. Joy rises through my body. Lost in wonder, I want to fall to my knees. My soul passed through El Portal… Can somebody give me an Amen?”
A few people mumbled, “aah-men.”
At this point, he had worked up a sweat that streaked down through the dust on his cheeks.
Closing his eyes again, he said, “I see my mother. She says, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” His voice quivered, “She called it the epiphany of Jacob, which I…” He abruptly stopped and turned his head away.
Not sure what to do, the audience waited. Ron stood up applauded; the rest of them soon joined him.
Jacob smiled, bowed, and said, “Thank you all so much.”
“Does anyone have a question for Jacob?” Ron asked.
A young man in a plaid western shirt with a long beard asked, “It sounds like you see this place as a playground, an escape for personal therapy. Do you have a sense of responsibility to the land and its future?”
Jacob turned red and looked away from the questioner. “I don’t fully understand that question. I at least need some time to think on it. Maybe we could talk after.”
A woman stood up in the back pew. “You are great with language and description, hinting by your use of glacial polish… But it sounded romantic and sentimental, with no sense of the dark side of nature… I mean the floods and fires… People die here.”
Jacob looked surprised and wounded. After a long pause, he rooted through his pack, his back turned. Carrie walked in and sat in the back. Jacob turned back to the audience with another notebook but looked off to the side. “Man, if anyone has swallowed darkness here in Eden, it’s me. That’s why I stick with beauty… I still have the lines I wrote twenty years ago. ‘I’ve been drinking with a killer and can’t stop seeing Tissiak’s rage.” I’ve never been able to add words to it. Maybe sentimental keeps me frickin’ sane!”
Just then, Ron stood back up and said, “Let’s wrap up for now. You’ll have more opportunities to talk to Jacob in the coming months.”
Ron assured Jacob that he did fine and not to worry about the comments. “I want you here. Your work has a lot of potential.” That was more than Jacob expected, and it gave him hope.
Carrie walked to the altar, where Jacob was gathering his mess of notes and journals. She was sweating, dressed in tight yellow running shorts, Ray-Bans hung from the center of her light blue sports bra. Her hair was pulled through the opening of a white baseball cap with a Nike swoosh. She kissed him. “Got my five miles in.”
“Babe, I didn’t see you come in.”
“You were kinda looking at the floor.”
“Let’s get out of here.” They left without responding to those who had approached the pulpit.
Go to Episode #9
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