|El Capitan from Valley View. 9" x 12", oil on canvas.|
I sit down next to an old guy, Butch—big white tobacco-stained beard, handlebar mustache and cowboy hat. We get talking, he shares with me a little of his roots and his peregrinations in the West. "You live in town?" I ask, "No" he answers in a dry raspy voice, "I live 3 miles out of town." "You like it?" "It's ok" he continues, "but my neighbor, he gone stole my rifles…if he come round again, he be goin' to the morgue." Here I was, having grown up on the rainy side of the Atlantic, watching TV matinees of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, now finding myself face-to-face with the wilder side of the Wild West.
After a selection of further anecdotes from Butch—that really was his name—I depart The Mangy Moose and continue up highway 120. Passing Chinese Camp, then Moccasin, I climb falteringly up Old Priest Grade, my transmission making vehement sounds of protest. Eventually I arrive on Big Oak Flat, and turn into the Forest Service Station seven miles beyond Groveland.
Having purchased a campfire permit and discussed with the ranger the pros and cons of dispersed camping on forest service land, I head up towards Yosemite. Just outside the park boundary I turn off on the road to Hetch Hetchy and set up camp in a forest that had been victim of the not-long-past rim fire.
The afternoon takes me in to Yosemite, seeking a suitable subject to set down in oils. I come to Valley View, the low-angled sun hitting broadside the massive rock expanse of El Capitan, its golden rock face reflected in the turbulent waters of the Merced river.
As the final hour of daylight approached I found I was joined by a small gathering of photographers. One especially conscientious man wearing waders was submerged knee-high with his tripod in the river. The scene reminded me of a group of earnest herons gathered at the end of the day in high hopes of one final prize catch.
As the dusk descended and the photographers departed, I finished up my own prize catch and headed back to my camp for a meal in the near pitch-black forest of charred trees.