Sanctuary Ridge Stories #4

Yosemite Half Dome

Lonely and Longing (1975)

After Ruth left Sanctuary Ridge, Jacob was increasingly lonely. All he’d received from her was a postcard from New York City. Jacob was was social, but unknown. He pined for California.

One day, about a month after’s Ruth’s departure, he was looking through his photo albums. He came to a snapshot from 1972 when he was twelve. In the photo,  Jacob and his father were posed at Tunnel View, the majestic gates of Yosemite Valley behind them. El Capitan, Bridalveil Fall. His father’s arm was around Jacob’s shoulder. They were on one of their special trips, just the two of them.

His father had bought Jacob a new camera for the trip. “You’re gonna love this Kodak. You can take slides like me.”

“Thank you!” Jacob said, looking at the little yellow and blue boxes of film. “You got us Ektachrome!”

When they got back on the road, his father said, “Don’t worry, we’ll stop here at the falls tomorrow. Do you have any questions… about  the book I gave you on Wednesday?”

Jacob pressed his face against the car window, trying to look up at the steep, scultured cliffs.

“Jacob? Do you have any questions?”

“Yes. What is that gray rock?”

“That’s granite. I was asking you about the, uh, sex book I gave you—do you have questions about that?”

“Uh… Not really… It made sense,” Jacob said, as continued to marvel at the cliffs.

“Have you had any wet dreams yet?”

“Dad! That’s embarrassing.”

“That’s why I gave you the book—so you don’t feel awkward about the changes.”

“Can we talk about it tomorrow?”

“Sure,” he said as he patted the boy’s shoulder. “Sorry to embarrass you.”

 Jacob looked east,  noticing more granite sculptures, like fortresses. The steep walls of the valley appeared glorious in texture and shape, their crystal flakes glistening in the radiance of the sun.

“So, Dad,  how did the valley form?”

“Glaciers. Slow scraping of ice.”

His father turned to Jacob. “Let’s head up to Sentinel Dome  while there’s light.”

After some time hiking, they came to Glacier Point. From there, they looked across the valley at the high peaks of the Sierras Jacob pointed at the canyon below the peaks. “Nevada Falls, five hundred and ninety-four feet high. Spanish for ‘snowy.’ I think it looks like an avalanche.”

“You sure did your homework.” Do you know the name of the falls below Nevada?”

“Vernal. Three hundred and seventeen feet.”

Jacob shot more pictures and stared hypnotically as the water coming off the high country tumbled over a shorn igneous wall, and crashed over heaps of broken boulders, then over the enchanted Vernal fall before spilling onto the valley floor with great violence.

Staring off, Jacob said, “This my favorite place on earth!”

“Mom says you’re like Jacob in Genesis.”

“What do you mean?”

“She said there’s a story where Jacob has a dream. When he wakes up, he says, “How awesome is this place! This must be the gate of heaven.” 

When they got back down to the valley, they stopped at The Ansel Adams Gallery. Jacob noticed a book, The Glaciers of Yosemite.  “Can I get this, Dad? I’ll pay you back with next month’s allowance.”

“Sure.”

***

When they got back to the Cedar Lodge in El Portal, it was getting dark. They ordered a pizza next door, and as they walked back to their room, Jacob said, “Dad, I’m ready to talk about the… biology book.”

“Ok. Great. I’m gonna call Mom first and let her know we’re OK.”

At first, Jacob was lost in his new book about glaciers in Yosemite. Then he noticed his dad looked very concerned and was trying to reassure his mother. “We’ll leave first thing in the morning.”

That hit Jacob hard. They had planned a challenging hike.  When his father got off the phone, Jacob asked, “Why are we leaving first thing? I thought you said we could hike up to the top of Nevada Fall.”

“There’s bad news. Aunt Delores died today.”

crack in wood rings

“What? How?”

“She… had a sudden heart attack. We need to go home in the morning, then fly back to Pittsburg in the afternoon. I’m sorry we can’t do the hike. I know you worked hard planning it.”

“Is she in heaven?”

“Sure.”

The pizza guy came, but Jacob didn’t want any. He felt like crying but suppressed it. He went into the bathroom and composed himself. After he came out, he took a bite or two of a slice of pizza. “Can we go to bed? I’m tired.”

“Sure,” his father said. “I’ll get the lights in a minute.”

As he lay there, Jacob reviewed the day, a day filled with wonder and sadness. He was confused that such opposite feelings could occur at the same time. He felt terrible for resenting the cutting short of the trip. And when he thought about his Aunt Delores, his stomach hurt. He wondered what his father felt. I must be weird. Like a sissy.

The ride home the next morning was quiet. Jacob felt that talking excitedly about their trip was inappropriate, and so was talking about Delores’ death.

***

Returning to the present, Jacob put the photo album away and rode his bike to the batting cages just beyond the tennis courts with the cigarette machine. Although his father was kind and helpful, they no longer went on trips together. Jacob understood the demands of the business—he’d worked there himself in the summers. The topic of sex was not broached again.

Looking for Eden (1978)

 In the summer of 1978, a day after his high school graduation, Jacob and his friend Tommy began their pilgrimage to Yosemite in California, the first of his many departures from and returns to Sanctuary Ridge.

His grandmother Minnie asked that he stop by on his way out. Now too impatient to walk over to St Andrews where she and Papaw lived, he drove his loaded Ford van over, Tommy already stoned.  

Minnie was waiting on the front porch in a lightly stained rocking chair, smoking a Camel non-filter. “Have a seat young man.” She pointed to a similar rocker. On the little table between the chairs were two mini-cans of Rolling Rock and two small glasses.

Jacob pulled out his Marlboro box, and a stainless-steel flask. Minnie held out her lighter, then mildly scolded him. “Put that thing away. It’s not even quite noon.” Pouring from the green can with the horse head logo, she said, “Here. This is more appropriate.”

 “Thanks,” he said, contributing his smoke cloud to hers.

“I know you’re eager to get on the road, so I’ll get right to it. I know you miss your mother, and I know a boy your age is not equipped nor inclined to talk about a thing like that. But I’ve seen your restlessness grow. Restlessness can be a good thing—as when it leads you to find rest in your Maker. I have a favorite poem called “The Pulley.” It’s the last good thing I heard in a church.”  She looked over at St. Andrews, recalling the day twenty-six years earlier when she walked out.

Continuing, Minnie said, “Herbert, the poet-priest here,  says restlessness is God-given. God withheld rest so we won’t latch on to some gift rather than him—the Giver.”

Handing Jacob a folded sheet that looked like one of her old, illustrated manuscripts from Ireland,  she said, “I know it may not mean much to you now, but please take this copy. I handwrote it just for you. It may help you someday.”

“Thanks, Gran.” He looked at the detailed calligraphy. “It looks real nice. I’ll check it out.”

“Don’t bullshit me. Just read it someday.” Minnie hugged him tight and kissed him. “I’ll miss you. Please send me a post.”

Wherever he smelled that blend of perfume, smoke, and alcohol in the future, Jacob would be haunted by the conversation on the porch that day.

***

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