In March 2020 the world suddenly became very small for all of us. My family was no exception. The girls, Leah and Clare, stayed home every day and accessed school via video conference. Josh and I still worked but had limited contact with co-workers and no contact with anyone else. Elisabeth, who lives in Chicago, went from work to home and could not come home for Easter, birthdays, or weekends. Josh and I thought, we need to go… We did not know where… but we knew we needed to see more of the world.
I have always loved the idea of the National Parks. I can’t count how many times I have watched the Ken Burns PBS series, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. There was something about these places that felt otherworldly, so special that they were removed from everyday existence for safe keeping. To me they became holy places I wanted to see but probably never could. But during the isolation and smallness of the pandemic stay-home orders that dream became an urgency. We needed to go, now! If we didn’t go now, when would we go? We needed to be together in a new space and time to re-connect. We needed to grieve, to hope, to laugh, to find the new after so much isolation and fear. So, we purchased a National Park Pass as a Christmas gift for the family and began to plan.
What an epic journey! Ten days together was a lot, but we were out in the world. We laughed, especially in the car while driving. There was Leah, under the luggage in the back of a too-small cab gesturing to indicate that she could see a mountain already—even though we’d just left the airport. Clare wanted to know if “Yos-mite” (as she read the name), was in Utah and could we go to Death Valley too (kind of late to change the plan Clare). Elisabeth became Leah’s pre-algebra teacher and we all got a refresher in probability as they worked on her assignments.
We stopped at Crater Lake National Park where it was clear skies until we got to the top of the mountain and a blizzard started. We never saw the lake. But we saw eagles swooping and catching fish in the river behind our rented house. At Redwood National Park we marveled at the huge trees and the incredible destruction from last year’s fires that even now have new life emerging. We found a “fancy pants” bird who we would see again at Yosemite. At Point Reyes National Seashore, we learned from a four-year-old that crabs live under rocks in tidepools and that Clare is a little scared of them; even if they are only 2 inches long. We also learned that Mom (me) can’t handle driving across roads with wide open space on the side (cliffs) and can get spectacular panic at just the wrong moment.
We listened to the audio tour at Alcatraz and learned about true isolation: the ability to hear the world across the water while not being a part of it. We sat on a rocking boat for two hours looking for whales but never found even one. We cried, then sprang into action when the rental car was broken into in San Francisco and we let out a collective sigh of relief when we discovered that Clare’s computer was not in the backpack that was stolen. We agreed that the city was just too much and sped off to Yosemite as soon as we got a new rental.
Yosemite was the pinnacle of the adventure, literally and figuratively. We rode bikes around the valley while looking up and down and trying to take in all the views. We learned some Spanish from Clare as she narrated video for her DePaul University class.
“Esta es la cascada de Bridalveil y esta es la cascada del Yosemite.”
"This is the Bridalveil waterfall and this is the Yosemite waterfall."
We took our shoes off to wade across the glacially cold water of Mirror Lake on our way to the next trail. We stood in silence at the top of Glacier Point as we tried to take in the view of the whole valley with its waterfalls and granite monoliths.
We found the world beyond anything we had hoped for when we said, “Let’s go.” We encountered the kindness of others in the compassion of the rental car agent and our lodging hosts. We connected to the land as we touched cool rocks and warm trees. We gazed into the heavens as we looked up towards treetops and the granite soaring above our heads. We recognized our origins in the sound of rushing water heard everywhere in Yosemite Valley, and in our realization that the biggest of all trees grows from the tiniest pinecone. We pondered questions of equity, justice, incarceration, and poverty at Alcatraz. We identified the pain of marginalized and suffering communities surrounded by the expanse of national treasures and resources at the national parks, all of which have tribal lands within them. Most importantly, we connected with each other in the new spaces and places we visited. It was truly epic. And we are already planning our next adventure.
Cathy and her husband Joshua are Springfield Dominican Associates living in Springfield, lll. Their three daughters, Elisabeth, Clare (who graduated from SHG) and Leah who is a favorite of the sisters when she visits, are intimately connected to the Dominican community through education, service, ministry, and cherished friendships. Cathy is a member of the JUST Words editorial board.