I was rummaging around in the My Documents folder for something, and I came across a short story that I wrote back in 2004, titled The Nod. I read it and took some comfort in the fact that, even now, my feelings haven’t changed. For your enjoyment and (constructive) criticism, here is:
Yosemite National Park is my absolute favorite place to take a vacation. Everything is on a different scale while you are in the valley, surrounded by huge granite walls and towering trees. The distant sounds of waterfalls seem to make everyone, including children, cognizant that this is a spiritual place.
I was sitting on the Yosemite Valley Shuttle when we pulled up at the Happy Isles stop and he got on board. He was a young guy, maybe 21. He was unwashed, unshaven, and his hair was long and unkempt. The duct tape on the knees of his pants was evidence of his poverty. On his back was a gigantic, red backpack that looked like it weighed more than he did. The massive backpack swayed as he stepped to a spot on the bus and took a handrail. No way could he sit down without taking the pack off.
Clearly, this guy was hardcore. He was a mountain climber – the battered carabineers hanging on his pack were evidence of that. Not like the clowns that pay $40,000 to have someone hold their hand to the top of Everest. This guy was real. He was living it.
As the bus started up again, he noticed I was looking at him, and he quickly averted his gaze. I may have had a disapproving look on my face, but I don’t know why that mattered. Maybe he felt inferior. My corporate haircut, or maybe my clean Columbia shirt and new North Face hiking boots with nary a scuff on them betrayed me as a tourist of the highest magnitude. I was a poser. I tried to hide my digital camera. I felt inferior to him.
I work an entire year, sitting in a cubicle in front of computers, looking forward to spending five days in Yosemite. This kid saw this place and made it his home. Home is a broad term to use, as I doubt that he has any actual place he slept regularly. But The Yosemite Valley was his home. Probably everything he owned was in that pack.
When he looked up at me again, I nodded approvingly. It was a nod of recognition that he could do something I could never do. Were I his age and without my obligations, yes, I could have been a vagabond mountain climber, but that opportunity is long past me now. I never seized it when I could. But this kid did. It was a nod of admiration.
He didn’t look away, and he smiled a little. Not a smirk, not a grin. He didn’t say anything and neither did I, and he got off at the next stop.
I think he understood that I was trying to communicate that I respected his life choice – the sacrifices he has made to stay in such an incredible place and embrace it so fully. Either that or he thought I was offering him a blow job. In which case, he was sorely disappointed that I didn’t follow him off the bus. But I chose to think he understood what I meant.
(c) 2004, Mitch Lavender