McKay here! And so is summer, my favorite season of the year. Yeah, I know most people either like the fall or spring, but summer always had my heart. Summer meant freedom. School is out, I had time to myself and to just explore the outdoors. Being a father myself now, I extend that excitement to my children because now it means we can take vacation.
And the family and I are fresh back from Yosemite. It's a family tradition that we picked up after several years off. If you haven't been, you need to do yourself a favor and cross it off your bucket list because it is quite honestly the most beautiful and friendly national park in the world.
There is just something about the smells of camping. The tents going up, the wood burning, the trees rippling in the wind that it sounds more like water. And the flow of the Merced river which was the highest I had ever seen it in ten years thanks to El Nino this year. It's a tradition I plan on keeping with my family for as long as is possible.
And speaking of traditions, I noticed something that was different this year. At dusk, every evening as the fires are at their highest in the camps, and the families are working on their dinners and getting relaxed for the evening, one can hear in the distance the beginning of a chorus of calls.
And usually without fail, another campsite begins the call again.
And another campsite will take the call. And so on.
But for some reason, that didn't happen very much this year. I don't know why. It was extremely disappointing. We even attempted on several nights to start the call ourselves to be met with silence and weird looks from our neighbors. Could this tradition have been dying?
Not on my watch.
So who is Elmer? And why do we call his name every evening at twilight, the same time the sparkly vampires like to come out? It starts with the Fire Fall. At the beginning of the 20th Century, much like now, most of the camp sites were located on the eastern end of Yosemite Valley. This area is particularly beautiful. The meadows open up and you are surrounded by the sights of Yosemite Falls to the northwest, Glacier Point to the south, and Half Dome to the east. These are all mountain walls that are right on top of you. And three thousand feet up, at the top of Glacier Point, park rangers would have a huge bonfire going for several hours leading up to sunset. The flames could be seen from the valley floor. As the sun would set, camping families would set their blankets and gather in the meadow.
A wonderful memory of this lost tradition was described here. It would begin in the valley, "Hello Glacier!"
And from the top of Glacier Point, "Hello Camp Curry."
And the campers in the meadow would yell back, "Let the fire fall!" Then Glacier Point would comply by slowly letting the bon fire coals fall down the cliff side, three thousand feet above Camp Curry. The picture here gives a good idea of what it looked like. For 10-15 minutes, Camp Curry would be treated with this light show as the stars began to emerge above them.
How does this relate to Elmer? Well, one of these nights, shortly after the falls had completed and everyone was gathering their things, a woman began calling out Elmer in the meadow. She had lost her young son in the growing darkness and was franticall running through the crowd calling out his name.
Other campers began to help immediately calling out Elmer's name as well. With the gathered help, Elmer's name rang across the valley and the young boy was soon found and brought safely back to his family.
The very next night, some called out
He wasn't lost again. A tradition had been born. And while the Fire Falls ceased in 1968, as the dusk settled in, campers would still call out to Elmer, making sure that he found his way safely home.
So, if you are fortunate enough to find yourself camping in Yosemite, remember, make sure to get Elmer home.