Sunday, February 17, 2008


“We have to be on our best behavior,” Mike said solemnly. “Isaac might remember this forever.”

We were on our way toward the southern entrance to Yosemite. We had voluntarily left our sunny, 60+ degree weather of California's central coast to drive three hours to snow. Is there no end to parental sacrifice?

“What are you talking about?” I asked my husband for the hundred-millionth time over the last three years.

“Well, I remember when I was three and my parents took me to play in the snow.”
I just nodded. I didn't bother reminding him he also has memories from when he was still in a crib because he is an UNNATURAL FREAK.

On the phone, the hotel had told us there is a snow park between them and Yosemite. Armed with two different friends' recent stories of visiting such places, we had visions of gliding along on rented snow shoes while pulling Isaac on a sled and watching kids of various ages toss snow balls between ice forts and try their hand at snow boarding. Awesome. We were set.

We drive through the town of Los Banos - past Olinda's Restaurant, Johnnie's Cleaners and Rooney's Liquors, and toward the town of Oakhurst and Danny's Pizza. (I don't know if any baby name books take this into consideration. If you want to help shape your offspring's commercial destiny, think about what name you pick. “Olinda's Pizza” just doesn't sound appetizing somehow, and “Johnnie's Restaurant” makes my arteries clog just musing on it. And, well, I don't think Quinton will be going into business at all, or if he does, he'll hide behind names like “Second Street Grill” or “West End Jewelers.” But, as usual, I digress.)

After sleeping for the first hour and a half of our journey Isaac woke up in order to spend the following hour and a half craning his neck and whining desperately “Me can't see the snow!”
After a wrong turn that cost us about 40 minutes more of this charming predicament, we landed at our Comfort Inn where the woman at the desk has no knowledge whatsoever about the snow park except that it did in fact exist.

It's late so we save the park for tomorrow. For tonight, we head up the hill just far enough until suddenly and miraculous snow begins to appear at which point we pull over and venture into it. At first Isaac is enthralled. Then, he becomes fearful, afraid he will sink too far into the snow and refuses to walk any further without being carried. I am slightly deflated by his reaction, but also accustomed to his odd anxieties and short-sighted sense of adventure.

The next morning everyone at the hotel's continental breakfast crowds the waffle makers in their goofy pants that come up too high and swish-swish as they walk. They have important places to go. These are snow people.

We ask the new clerk behind the desk about the snow park which, by all accounts is a mere 20 minutes away. She also claims to know nothing. By now, Oakhurst hospitality has us in the palm of its hand. We blush with the warmth of it and head out.

The conditions are perfect: the sun is shining, the roads are completely clear, there is only snow where there is supposed to be snow – glistening among the trees, on the rooftops. We pass an inn with a large sign outside it that says “Vegetarian Menu.” Our lunch, post snow, is in the bag.

Then comes the sign that reads “Snow Play Area 2 miles.” In only a few moments I expect to see a Disney Land of snow appear on my right. Kiosks of fried food and piles of those saucer sleds, each in a rainbow of colors. And finally, there it is – except it's another sign, “Snow Play Area 1 mile,” with an arrow that points off the road and up the hill. “CHAINS REQUIRED” another sign reads. Well, obviously they mean when (as my son would say) “'now coming down from da sky.” We start up.

About three-fourths of the way we encounter some ice on the road, but it's no big deal. And then, ah, at last, our resort paradise...A meadow. Goat Meadow, to be exact. Goat Meadow Snow Play Area. Which is, a meadow. Nothing more. Nothing less. A couple SUVs were unloading sleds and kids and boots. There was no piped music, no fried food. There were a few snowmen leftovers and trees. And there was snow.

“Okay! Let's go!” I chime, not letting on to Isaac that I was completely counting on a lodge with a fire, or at least an ice rink and some cocoa.

This snow is packed down at least and Isaac loses his fear of sinking in. He requests to build a snowman with his dad while I pull the old, flattened carseat box out of the trunk to attempt a sled. After a while some people take pity on us and lend us their real sled. Isaac goes down a little hill with me once and pronounces himself all done. He returns to his snowman. I take the damn sled and do a few runs myself. We putter about, take another family's picture and then decide it's lunchtime.

I'm feeling proud of us and how we made the best of things, how we got our boy to the snow he's talked about for months, how no one yelled at anyone else, how I'm completely comfortable with this being Isaac's forever memory, as we start our 1-mile descent to the highway.

Not far into it we have to stop. There's a truck in the way. Mike gets out to see what the issue is. -- A backup has formed coming up the hill because the big-ass four wheel drives can't fit by each other without sliding. The ice I thought would be gone in the noon sun is still there and it's causing problems for the burly men with Harley tees and chains on their tires, and, by extension, us. They are trying to convince the people on their way up the hill to back up again to no avail.

Half an hour goes by. Men get in and out of their trucks. No one moves. I mention to one of the men sliding by that I saw the sheriff's pick up parked at the top. Okay, he says, he's off to go get him. Next thing you know, the sheriff's truck appears in our rearview mirror. Saved? ... It loses traction and slams into the Honda behind us, almost causing a domino effect. Another half hour goes by.

We could stay here for days if we needed to. Our car is chock-full of food. Not to mention clothes – piles of it, clean and dry, none of it worn. I packed for a different family, a different child – one that would roll in the snow and giggle when he sank up to his thighs, who would beg to take one more sled ride before we left. But this is Isaac, the kid who, at the first strike of the Taiko drum screamed and climbed his father in terror, then had to be carried out of the theatre to watch the first half of the show on a TV monitor in the lobby before going home to bed. Even when he counts something a good experience, there's the sense that enough is enough. He returned from swimming with his dad not long ago with the excited announcement, “Mama! Me go down the slide!” followed quickly by “Me never doing that again!”

The men, who are once again, convened outside on the ice, my husband included, (Oh, how they must love their job of being men. Doing men things. Talking men talk. Folding and unfolding their manly arms.) suddenly break apart and head to their separate vehicles. “What? What is it?” I ask, peering out of the homestead and straightening my bonnet. “We think we heard an engine start.” Mike stations himself behind the wheel. When suddenly, the smallest Who down in Whoville started to sing:

“Me haffa go poopy, Daddy.”

“Can you hold it for a little while?”


“Well this is the kind of thing that makes things go. When things start moving, they start moving, if you know what I mean.”

“Michael, take the child in the woods.”

Reluctantly, he does. So at least Isaac's memory of the snow will not be pooping in his pants.
By the time they get back, we are moving as promised.

At the bottom, trucks are parked everywhere. Why isn't anyone leaving? Another ranger is there and he approaches the car. “I need your license and registration.”

“Excuse me?”

“You're the ones who caused all this!”


“No chains.”

Strangely, like most of us when we are falsely accused, my husband has trouble sticking to the charge at hand, but instead, as if defending his supposed guilt blurts, “The sheriff didn't have chains either!”

“Four-wheel drive.”

I wonder if this man always talks like this, in short, accusatory phrases, this sheriff of Mariposa, this sheriff of Butterfly.

He continues to make his rounds, notifying others of their crimes, and when he returns to collect the license and registration, he seems cheery, empathic, even. Perhaps he is heartened by the thought of his badge number on all those citations. “Current insurance?...Okay! No problem! I'll be right back.”

No problem! I'll be right back with your fine!

I say this out loud of course and the other sheriff, the one with no chains and four-wheel drive who slid into the Honda smirks at me.

“Why we stopping?” Isaac wants to know.

“We're going soon, honey. First we have to wait for the nice officer to give us a ticket.”
At last we are free of it all and headed below 6,000 feet. We are still buoyant about the vegetarian lunch place, but as we approach the turn, a woman waves us down. “He's stuck. He's sliding.” She points to a giant four-wheel drive about 100 yards ahead.

“Thanks! Don't say another word.”

But the Who had this to say: “Me want to go back hoooome.”


bobbie said...

I have to give you props - for not losing it completely with the Sheriff of Mariposa and punching his teeth down his throat. Cheer up! Your son will probably look back on this experience and only remember the snowmen - especially that little alien one with the slanty eyes.

Dianne said...

what a great story. it had it all - love, innocence, action, drama, family and a crazy sheriff.

I especially like the description of the men doing their manly things, I could literally see the scene.

and your photos are so wonderful - what a beautiful family - warts and poop and anxiety and all!

Anonymous said...

Okay, that goes in the book...that book you're collecting all this for, right? The one we can read later so we laugh at the good old days? The one Isaac will read, a slightly embarrassed Christopher Robin, and wonder how he and Mom remember things so differently.

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