I continue working on a longer article describing my recent trip to Idaho while sloughing off on my observations of daily living. My brother-in-law has been calling me twice a day now for several days to tell me about the big fire burning out of control near Yosemite National Park. He lives in the town of Sonora, not too many miles from the fiery beast, and has been watching planes and choppers dropping water and retardant in the mountains around the periphery of the blaze. Meanwhile, I have been watching the local television reports to see how bad the damage might become.
In May of this year I had visited some of this same back country that has already been torched, and wrote about it in my journal entry of May 5. In retrospect, the day I made the drive through that hot, dry forest, I was anxious to get out and get to where the air is cooler and the terrain more green. Every year, for half the year, the low Sierras always look as if they are about to burst into flame. Now this region will be black for years to come and I may never see it returned to its natural state.
So far, Yosemite Valley has been preserved, and I imagine that will remain safe from the fire because of its geology, sitting in the bottom of a deep canyon of granite walls. Another valley of similar striking beauty, Hetch Hetchy, was dammed up a hundred years ago, so that the stream running through it (the Tuolumne River) could serve two purposes: allow water to be piped to San Francisco, some two hundred miles away, and provide hydroelectric power to the city. The fire is apparently close to Hetch Hetchy (a Miwok word meaning “edible grass”) and is considered a threat to the well-being of San Francisco. Amazing how it can be that the fate of Hetch Hetchy can influence a population so far away, showing the vulnerability that humans have created for themselves.
I have camped, ridden motorcycles on the dirt roads, and visited many of the small and out-of-the way ghost towns and mining camps in the general area where the fire continues to rage. Many of these small and forgotten places were established as a result of the gold rush of 1849, when people from all over the world came to these hills by the tens of thousands and overturned virtually every rock in every river bed, looking for instant wealth. When the main hunt for gold concluded, miners simply walked away from these work-camp locations, allowing the rest of the world to come and have a look at what was left behind.
This fire is not big enough to wipe out all the old history of the gold era, but it may cause what is left unblackened to be a more precious resource for all to come enjoy. I only wish that in May I could have foreseen what would be happening in August. I might then have had a greater appreciation for what I was viewing.