A demonstration of Black bodies in nature

‘Our family trip to Yosemite has given me access to places I subconsciously felt weren’t home to me.’

The lines etched on my wedding band resemble mountain peaks or ocean waves, depending on what you imagine them to be. I’ve always preferred the beach to the mountains. Some studies suggest that the beach is for extroverts, who favor frolicking and socializing over a solitary mountain journey.  I am more extroverted than my mountain-loving husband, but I think my love of the beach has more to do with its sweeps of sand, colored sea glass and the sound of the ocean, emanating ease and serenity. The mountains have always left me with a tinge of fear. The threatening forests featured in horror movies, combined with my ancestral memory of Blacks being murdered in rural places, meant that the mountains, until recently, rarely called my name. 


Our annual trip to Yosemite National Park became a tradition well before my husband and I exchanged our engraved rings. He was a teenaged Midwesterner, newly transplanted to California, when he went on a last-minute summer backpacking trek near Glacier Point and decided that he would bring his future family to this idyllic place. “It’s the sky,” he said. “There’s too much light pollution in the city. You have never seen the sky like this.” And he was right. A Yosemite sunset looks like a three-tiered cake, a frosted portrait of purple, yellow and orange watercolor coursing into the trees. 

Now, many years and many kids later, we load up car seats and snacks and probably more winter clothes than we need — the Angeleno in me must prepare fervently for anything below 60 degrees — and make our way to Evergreen Lodge.  

Ten years in, the six-hour drive is easier now. We’re fortified with a playlist and motion sickness medicine. There’s familiarity around every bend. We know we’re close to the park when we see the Wawona General Store and Post Office, distinguished by its old but working phone booth. We stop at Rush Creek River, and the kids pile out of the car to stretch their legs and change from sneakers to snowboots. Cell reception fades, and I grade a last essay or send a final email before rolling down the window, drawing mountain air deep into my lungs.

The entrance to Yosemite is dramatized by a brightly lit tunnel that opens into a view of the entire valley. Granite monoliths from El Capitan to Half Dome overshadow the basin, and the incredible landscape is simultaneously romantic and isolating. It draws you near, but also reminds you how small and insignificant we are amid these grand creations. The isolation deepens as I people-watch, realizing that from this moment forward my own image in the car mirror will likely be the only other Black woman I see. But my children are a reflection of me. Instinctively, I begin counting heads and corralling brown faces back into our truck. 

The isolation deepens as I people-watch, realizing that from this moment forward my own image in the car mirror will likely be the only other Black woman I see.  

In years past, we’ve stopped at Yosemite Valley Chapel, Yosemite Falls and the Ahwahnee Hotel. The hotel reminds me of the movie The Shining, but it’s not as alarming as the Wawona Hotel, whose white plaster columns more closely resemble a plantation’s. I whisper all of this to my husband because, to the kids, this is just a fun trip to the snow.  

A winter getaway isn’t meant to be a political statement, yet I exist in a political body. Our Black, Mexican, Norwegian, German and Caribbean family is loudly politicized whether I whisper or scream. So, we scream: Near Crane Flat, we pull to the side of the road, get out, and scream. 

Our screams echo back to us, bouncing off the trees like waves approaching a marina. Our 8-year-old calls out for Bigfoot. Our teenage son’s deepened voice booms through the thickets. I would never permit myself to scream in the city; I would never consider screaming at the beach. The sense of vulnerability I feel in the middle of the Stanislaus Forest can’t be denied, and my freedom to scream is how I harness my release. 

The lodge where we stay is on the other side of the forest, so we follow the Merced River through the valley to the cabin that is our home for five days each December. It looks like a gingerbread house, coated with snow. The only other Black women I’ve seen here were the friends I’ve brought with me over the years, but the road signs, the entrances and exits through the wooded terrain, all exemplify access. Our family trip to Yosemite has given me access to places I subconsciously felt weren’t home to me. And when people marvel at the old-timey pictures on the lodge walls, I commemorate the historic images that exist outside the frames: The Buffalo Soldiers, children of enslaved people, who protected Yosemite as its first-ever park rangers. Years later, the Black families who drove through the ravine during the Great Migration of the 1920s. They existed here. I exist here, and over 4,000 years ago, the Ahwahnechee people of Ahwahnee Valley existed here. 

For me, a journey through Yosemite is not a celebration of stolen land, it is a remembrance. A remembrance of the original caretakers of this land, including the Ahwahnechee elders who have recently worked to resurrect Wahhoga village, the last Indigenous village in Yosemite, which had been destroyed by 1969. A remembrance of the young, the old, the teenagers climbling mountains bigger than they dreamed, the etchings on my wedding ring, and my once-pregnant belly. 

It’s also a demonstration of Black bodies in nature and a 44-year-old me storing up evergreen energy to take back to the city. For a few days each year, you can find me in the wilderness. And if you drive through Yosemite in mid-December, you might hear my unbridled scream reverberating through the sequoias.   

Ryane Nicole Granados was raised in Los Angeles. Her writing finds its roots in her love of community and her belief that Black motherhood is an act of social justice. Recently named the 2021 Established Writer and Individual Arts Fellow by the California Arts Council, her work has been featured in various publications including Pangyrus, The Manifest-Station, The Nervous Breakdown, The Atticus Review, and LA Parent Magazine. Her storytelling has also been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and showcased in KPCC’s live series Unheard LA.

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