In the same way the Blue Ridge Mountains left their mark on my soul, Yosemite National Park lent a formative hand to the rearing of my children.
I will forever be indebted to rocks and rivers and dirt.
When I was a child in the Carolinas, a lifetime ago, people did not go camping. If they did, they didn’t talk about it.
I cannot imagine my mother pitching a tent in the dirt. I can’t  even imagine anyone having the nerve to suggest she should.
But we never needed to leave home to spend time with Mother Nature. We lived all year ’round in her back yard.
Like other Southern children, I grew up running barefoot through cow pastures and corn fields and a snake-infested forest called “the woods,” that doubled as my playground and my mother’s salvation. “Get out of here,” she’d say, “turn off that TV and go play in the woods!”
And so I did, summer, winter, spring or fall. My earliest memories are of moments I spent watching the sun melt like butter over Hogback Mountain; moonlight rippling on the creek at my grandparents’ farm; thunderheads billowing, lightning flashing; leaves changing colors, red and yellow, gold and brown, dancing on the wind as I would, if I could.
Children need to be fed _ body, mind and soul. My childhood was far from idyllic. But thanks to those mountains, it was a visual and mental and spiritual feast.
My children grew up in a different world, but one that was  just as beautiful as the one I had known. On the rocky coast of California’s foggy Monterey Peninsula, they waded in tide pools, laughed at sea lions and turned deep blue building sand castles on the beach.
But it was in Yosemite, I suspect, where they came to know what Wendell Berry called “The Peace of Wild Things.”
Their father, a fifth generation Californian, grew up camping in the park with his family every summer, and he insisted that his children would know it and love it in the same way that he did.
So we camped there for a week every summer, plus an occasional weekend in spring or fall, for almost 25 years.
The summer after he died of cancer, my children and I camped in the park on the reservation he’d booked for us a few months before he died.
While we were there, my youngest celebrated his 21st birthday and got a job that would allow him to spend the next year in the park, cleaning campground bathrooms and finally, running the ski shop.
In that year, he “grew up” to be the kind of man who would make his dad _ and his mom _ very proud. Yosemite, I believe, helped to heal him of his loss.
When he left home to work in the park, I rented a lake house in the Blue Ridge Mountains and spent a month reconnecting with the land I first called home.  And somehow those mountains helped to heal me, too.
Last week, my youngest and his wife took their 10-month-old (Randy, named for his late grandfather) to Yosemite to meet his “rock family” _ Glacier Point, Yosemite Falls, El Capitan and Half Dome.
When he’s older, Randy might climb those rocks with his dad, the way his dad once climbed them with his dad, too. But for now it was enough for him to make their acquaintance. Maybe someday, Lord willing, I can introduce him to the Blue Ridge.
We have a relationship, most of us, if we are lucky, with mountains and rivers and rocks and dirt that is as real and as lasting as anything we will ever know with flesh and blood.
Yosemite had a hand in helping raise my children. I’m counting on it to help raise my grandchildren, too.

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