My Dad always lost his lens caps.
Whenever we’d travel together, at some point, you’d hear him say, “Oops,” or “Dammit…” or “Awww, crap.” Then he’d start laughing because another unsuspecting lens cap had fallen away, never to be heard from again. Between two rocks, down a river, or even over a cliff edge. Like socks in a dryer, I’m sure there’s a pile of missing lens caps somewhere in the Universe.
For his birthday one year, I sent him a box of five lens caps with a note that said, “For our trip to Yosemite.” We were headed there a month later for another of our traditional father / son trips. At the time, I was doing pretty well at a new job in Los Angeles, and had decided buy a convertible that I shouldn’t have. I haven’t always made the smartest decisions. Dad flew to L.A. and then we hopped into said convertible and drove all the way up the Pacific Coast Highway to San Francisco. We saw some friends there, and then a couple of days later, drove on to Yosemite. The plan was to spend two days there, and then head back to L.A.
On the way to San Francisco, we had a chance to talk about lots of stuff, listen to good music, and enjoy the coast. We stopped at Hearst Castle, which was an odd but interesting place, and of course, took pics in Big Sur together.
After a few days with our friends in San Fran, which was a fun adventure on its own, we headed to Yosemite. It’s worth mentioning that we didn’t have internet access or e-mail while we were traveling. It was just us and the road. (Side note, try it some time. Turn your phone off, put it in a bag in the trunk, put your favorite music on, and enjoy the ride). I’d checked the weather before we left and the forecast was perfect. 60’s and 70’s during the day, and 40’s at night. Dad had rented us a cabin in the park and after getting a good night’s rest, we woke up our first morning to this:
We spent the day hiking and eventually made our way up the Mist Trail to Vernal Falls. However, much to my happiness, and our shared hysterical laughter, half way to the top, this happened:
Another lens cap donated to the camera Gods.
Dad was determined to find this one. I joined in the hunt, but after ten minutes, neither one of us were successful. I asked him if he’d brought the spare ones I’d sent him and he said, “No! I wasn’t going to give you the satisfaction!” I nodded. Then I pulled out the spares I was keeping in my backpack, and said, “Well, feel free to choose one of these three beauties I brought just in case.” He laughingly shook his head, then begrudgingly took one.
We spent most of the rest of the day hiking and enjoying the beauty that is Yosemite National Park. You should go there at some point in your life. It’s one of the most famous parks in the world for a reason. There’s more to see there than you’ll likely have time for, and the scenery is some of the most photographed and famous in the United States of America. I could write a lot more about it, but honestly… just go visit.
At one point, we saw a crowd gathering in the middle of the park. I thought they were stopped to take pictures of the deer that I could see in the distance. They were actually gathered because there was a man with a pair of large binoculars on a tripod, and he was allowing people to take turns looking at rock climbers on the face of Half Dome. Without the binoculars, the climbers looked like dots you’d make with a sharp pencil point. You could barely make them out. But with the powerful binoculars, you could watch them climb. It was exhilarating!
The deer, however, were even more awesome. My dad and I seemed to be the only ones who noticed them, which was fine by us, as we had a lot of time to snap some photos:
On our way back to the cabin, we stopped at the gift shop to browse for souvenirs. I came across this lovely gem, which I stealthily purchased and later sent dad as a gift with some of the photos from our trip. It’s not as delicious as you want it to be, but the charm was worth every penny:
While all of those things made for a wonderful trip on their own, the highlight of the whole vacation actually came the next day.
After having a nice dinner and talking about the day’s adventures, we went to sleep and looked forward to another beautiful morning in the park. The plan was to wake up, enjoy some breakfast and sunshine, and then head back to Los Angeles. Best laid plans and all that.
Apparently, while we were sleeping, a winter storm had rolled in, which is known to happen at that time of year. I remember distinctly waking up and wondering why it was so cold. I opened the front door of the cabin and was stunned into a brief silence. Then I said, “Dad, you’re gonna wanna come take a look at this.”
Still in his underwear and a t-shirt, he walked over and had the same silent moment I’d just experienced. Both of us being photographers, we knew what we needed to do next. Breakfast was definitely going to be skipped.
We grabbed all our gear and overnight bags as fast as we could, We threw them into the car and took off for the best viewing areas near our cabin. We knew that with every minute the sun would begin heating up the land and everything we were seeing would likely be gone in a matter of hours. We started taking pictures but had to budget our shots. We were still shooting on film back then, and so we didn’t have the luxury of unlimited photographs. We made sure to line up our shots properly, check all of our exposure and meter settings, and hope for the best. We were able to capture shots like these:
The memories that I have attached to this trip are special for many reasons. It was a truly wonderful experience with my dad, one of many that we shared over the years. It was also the last time that I shot photographs on film. The fact that the swan song of my film camera was a set of such magnificent photographs has always made me very happy. The image below was actually the very last photograph I ever shot on film:
It’s at this point in the post that I want to talk about something a lot more serious than lens caps.
When we retell stories, most people don’t talk about the bad things or the hard things, the painful lessons or the hurt. One of the reasons I wanted to start this website was to share the truth about what travel is really like. The vast majority of it is amazing. However, I t’s very important to me not to gloss over the things that aren’t fun, or the things that are downright painful.
What happened after I shot this photograph became one of the most powerful and painful lessons of my entire life.
My father was so excited about the snow even though it was beginning to melt. He was having such a fantastic time on vacation with me and he said,, “Hey! Why don’t we stay another night and hike some more tomorrow?! I’ll take care of the cabin, don’t worry about it.”
At that time, I’d been dating a girl for about a month or two, and unfortunately, in those days, was a much more insecure person. It’s easy to see now, with the clarity of age and hindsight, that I was young, immature, and didn’t value time and experience the way I do today. I was more interested in getting back to LA for kisses and cuddling than I was spending more time with my father in Yosemite.
I told him I wanted to head back, that we should get on the road, and as always, he was happy to “go where the car goes.” Dad always put his children before himself. It’s something I will always admire deeply about him, but also something I wish he’d done differently. I wish he’d been more selfish.
We went back to L.A. and I shared the remaining couple of days of his visit with the girl I was so desperate to get back for. It was fine. She’s a lovely person, but we simply weren’t compatible. That relationship ended a matter of weeks later. I was left with the gut wrenching feeling of having traded more quality time with my father… for hormones.
For years afterwards, I was haunted by that decision and the guilt that came along with it. I’d made a new and unknown relationship a priority over time with the man that was my best friend, who I only saw once a year, and who I truly loved hanging out with.
My father died a matter of years later. Thankfully, at the end, I was able to sit by his bedside, sometimes just the two of us. I tried to keep the conversation always positive, but one night I tearfully told him how sorry I was that I hadn’t spent more time with him in Yosemite. I told him that it’s one of the few things in my life that I would love to be able to go back and change. He was unable to say anything, but he squeezed my hand and nodded at me, and without speaking, he said everything I’d needed to hear. The next day, Jolene captured this photo;
The majority of the things I write about are fun and adventurous. The time I had with my father in Yosemite was nothing short of precious and I still treasure all the wonderful memories we made. But I also don’t shy away from the reality that human beings make mistakes. I made a big one not taking him up on his offer and having another day or two with my dad in one of the most beautiful places on earth.
I am writing this post because in today’s world, there is a very disturbing trend that people try to spin anything negative as something positive. I see it as a disturbing trend, because a human life is one that is enriched by both good and bad experiences. You cannot have one without the other. To deny that we make mistakes, that we hurt others, or are hurt by others, or both, is to live in denial of one of the fundamental things that make us all human.
I don’t need anyone to try and make my mistake “feel better,” or spin it into something it wasn’t.
That mistake shaped a huge part of who I am today. The way I look at the world, the way I prioritize the people I love, the way I care for my friends and family. A great deal of that is rooted in the painful lesson I learned after Yosemite, and that pain is part of who I am.
I wasn’t able to look at those photographs for a long time without feeling a substantial amount of sadness. Fortunately, over the years, that changed.
I was able to spend good quality time with my dad on other adventures. Later on, he got to know Jolene for more than twelve years, and shared many wonderful moments with us both. Our trip to Death Valley was one of the best things we ever did and you can read all about it here.
When I look at these photographs and I tell this story, I’m happy. I’m grateful for so many years with my dad. I’m grateful for the time we had in Yosemite, and the fun we had racing around trying to capture these photographs and beat the melting snow. And I’m grateful for the lesson even though it was a painful one.
I want to end this post by telling you that there is no shame in making mistakes if you learn from them, apologize, make amends when you can, and become a better person because of them. None of us get out of this life alive, and none of us get out of this life without making mistakes. I sincerely hope that if you read this post and there’s someone in your life that you wish you could spend more time with, that you do that before it’s too late. If my words inspire one person on this planet to do that then my goal with this post will have been accomplished.
Moonbird’s Helpful Info:
Yosemite National Park
Location: Yosemite, California
Google Maps: Click here
Best time to visit: Anytime.
Hours: Yosemite National Park is open 24 hours per day, 365 days per year, and no reservations are required to visit. However, the Hetch Hetchy Entrance Station is open only during daylight hours (approximately) and some roads are closed due to snow from around November through May or June. (Check road conditions and Hetch Hetchy hours.)
Seasons: North America’s Seasons are: Spring: March, April and May, Summer: June, July and August, Autumn: September, October and November, and Winter: December, January and February.