The drive to Yosemite takes almost five hours and my eleven-day old niece, Harper, sleeps the entire way. We get a late start made even later by a coffee shop that takes twenty minutes to fill our order. We drive across the new Bay Bridge and continue east for what seems like an eternity. The farther away we get from the coast, the browner everything gets. It becomes apparent just how dire the drought in California is. The Don Pedro Reservoir is so low that its sides are exposed and the result is the landscape of some alien planet, or how you might expect the earth to look in a few hundred years.
We stop and take pictures by the Yosemite sign. A threesome of tourists wait for their turn and comment on how small Harper is. They ask how old and they tell my brother and sister-in-law they’re brave.
Do you think we’re brave? my brother asks me. People keep saying that.
We walk around the grounds of the Ahwahnee Hotel together while my sister-in-law feeds Harper in our hotel room. We come across a river no more than five inches deep. I wade out in the sandals I bought at the beginning of the summer, now so tattered and worn I don’t care if the water ruins them. The river is freezing cold and numbs my toes, but the air is stifling and warm. The forest fires blaze just on the other side of Half Dome and everything smells like burning wood.
We wake up the next morning and the car is covered in ash. Soot falls around us like a freak snowstorm. We can’t see the top of El Capitan. We strap the baby into her carseat and drive up and up and up to find some cleaner air.
photographs taken in Yosemite National Park.