The absolute best thing in the world, on some mornings at least: Oatmeal. It’s warm, it’s tasty, it satisfies the hunger morning often brings. Pour in a little milk, add some raisins: Manna. Breakfast for the groggy of the world, it clarifies your worldview and gives you soluble fibers, which help stabilize blood sugar and (and, ladies and gentlemen, and) lower cholesterol, according to some person on the Internet. Oatmeal gives you the kind of open, contemplative frame of mind that only a warming fire, a good book and a pliant cat can normally provide.
I ate oatmeal when I was six years old; I ate it when I was 60. Still good. Say, why not have a bowl right now? I’ll wait.
The last time I was thinking unhurried oatmeal thoughts was at the Bug. Our friend Tom told us about The Bug. We asked him about it. What, you may be wondering, was the question to which “the Bug” was the answer. Here it is: “What’s a good place to stay near Yosemite Valley?”
For Christmas, my fine wife gave me a trip to Yosemite, complete with three days residence at the Yosemite Bug, which is its formal name. (The Bug is named after the Horned Pine Beetle, which is not the same as the mountain pine beetle — see below). We expected that we’d be walking through snow up trails to see frozen waterfalls and around meadows where the rising monoliths of granite appear mysteriously out of the fog. It would at least be relatively unpopulated; Yosemite is not known for its downhill skiing or wilderness ice rinks. But we reckoned without the miracle of global warming.
I’ll get to Yosemite in a moment. I wanted to show you fabulous photos, but Tracy was unhappy with how the photos came out. She wanted me not to use them at all, but I persuaded her by promising I would be very careful in my selection process. I think you’ll approve; Yosemite does not need to be gussied up.
But first, the Bug. We had a private room with bath (or bath en suite, as the English say), which is top-of-the-line accommodations at the Bug. You could get a shared bathroom, or a hostel-type dorm room, or tent cabins — it’s that kind of place. You can eat at the large warm dining hall, which has excellent dinners (portions too large for me, but I’m not a big eater of meals after sundown) and very fine coffee and organic whatevers and, as I have mentioned, oatmeal. And a view of the pines and bays and lots of familiar California vegetation. In fact, the Bug is a familiar California kind of place, simultaneously laid back and alert. Think Zen, only without the incessant sitting.
The Bug is a 40 minute drive along the Merced River from the park entrance. It was February, so there was no line at the ranger’s kiosk. Indeed, there were no traffic jams anywhere in the Valley, despite the network of insanely complex, under-signed roads. It’s almost as though God didn’t want cars in Yosemite at all.
Temperatures hovered around 70; T-shirt weather. The waterfalls were flowing freely because the snows above them were melting. California had a wet winter in 2017, and everyone said “Phew. Long showers again!” Alas. But good news! Warm winter weather and mighty waterfalls are adding to the California lifestyle. Kids splashed in Mirror Lake, which is now more like Mirror Creek.
At sundown, we found a deserted meadow with views of El Capitan and Cathedral peaks. We sat on a log and gazed at towering granite peaks, the darkening sky, the peaceful meadow. I thought about the Indians who first saw the place 8000 years ago. Game and fish were plentiful, the meadows were fertile; the weather moderate even at its 4000 foot elevation. Imagine turning to others in your exploratory band and saying, “you know, guys, correct me if I’m wrong, but we could…” Untold generations later, John Muir arrived and, through no fault of his own, started the process of fucking up the place. Yet, it has survived all attempts to despoil it. So far.
This is the way we live now, or at any rate the way I live. Searching for peace and natural splendor, I used up a tank of gas to drive to a famous valley hundreds of miles away so I can sit on a tree trunk and contemplate serenity in a partially paved natural wonderland, after lunch at a hotel that is mired in a naming dispute characterized by stupid greed on both sides. I have a damn backyard; I have a wilderness park a mile from my house, but no, I’m going to satisfy my urge for simplicity using all the tools destructive modern capitalism can give me.
At least I’m not putting holes in El Capitan so I can climb to the top and feel manly. You want to overcome obstacles and conquer fear? Go live in Aleppo.
But of course I’m raging against myself. It’s me that’s using the resources, taking the shortcuts, living the way nest-egg-adjacent white Americans have lived since Teddy Roosevelt. People need the system. Satirists write satire in order to eat; anarchists join organizations so they can afford the rent. Some retired liberals go to work for a year in Chad or Haiti, then come back and resume their lifestyle. It’s just something that happens; if I could change that, I’m not sure I would. Life is sweet when you can afford olive oil from Italy and saffron from Spain, which is really saffron from Iran.
In the forests I can see from the meadow, more than half the trees are dead because of an infestation of mountain pine beetles, often described as “about the size of a grain of rice.” The beetles are always there, but when it’s dry, the trees begin dying, and the beetles feed on the weakest. No one knows the number of dead trees in the west; all the National Park Service can say is “millions of acres.” Those dead trees are really great tinder for wildfires, which grow in size yearly.
The forests are weakened by drought, monoculture farming and the suppression of forest fires, all three caused or invented by human beings. Beetles don’t kill trees; human beings kill trees.
And so forth. I didn’t used to think dark thoughts when I was staring at glorious mountain vistas; on the other hand, the environment was in better shape back then. Man-made climate change is real, as are school shootings and endless wars and lunatic misogynistic politicians.
Apparently the redwood trees are doing fine and the red-tailed hawks are thriving. Also ravens and rats. We love the creatures endangered by climate change, but we dislike the adaptable survivors. Liberal guilt is not pleasant in person; it’s hypocrisy with just enough conscience to make you feel bad. But there it is.
After 10 minutes or so of self-trashing, I slid my butt down onto the moist earth and felt the wind on my face and watched the dying sun illuminate the west end of the valley. Might as well enjoy this before nightfall. Then we’ll drive back to the Bug and, who knows, order up another bowl of oatmeal. Life is good, except for the stuff I just mentioned.
Photography by Tracy “Oh yeah? Prove it.” Johnston
Useful info from Michelle Mizera