This could be the year this trip officially qualifies as a holiday tradition.
We had the biggest group this time around and—thanks to Julia’s enthusiasm for spending hours elbow-deep in fire and vegetables—the best food. It was a happy change to have so much snow, a sad one to cut short a day of clumsy cross-country skiing to baby yet another half-healed injury. This was also the first Yosemite trip I actually went inside the Ahwahnee, and the visitor center. I think the former needs more lawyers and the latter needs more Roosevelt.
So there are still small novelties, yes—but for the most part a tradition is something you’ve seen before. Perhaps that’s why this time I found myself paying more attention to things I heard. There was the roar of rockfall in the night (impossible to ignore that), but also:
- In a meadow the powder was deep and light. On the surface were strange, feathery formations shaped like shuttlecocks, and as I kicked my way through these shattered and collapsed.
- I stood at the base of a tall slab that had accumulated a thin layer of snow. The granite showed through in patches and dimples. Every few minutes the wall shed a fine layer of crystals, which scattered and skittered down the face, fell in my upturned eyes and down my jacket collar.
- On a shallow section of the Merced the surface had frozen in irregular discs, amoebic plates of ice that bumped and scraped against each other as the water lapped the shore.
In each case I had no word for the sound except “rustle” or “rattle,” and neither was ever quite right. Whether that’s a hole in my vocabulary or the language, I don’t know.
In the car on the way up we happened to listen to a podcast on Toki Pona, an invented language with only 123 words.
The point is simplicity. And in Toki Pona, simple is literally good. Both concepts are combined in a single word: pona. … The word pona is everything that’s good in the world: pineapples, bananas, cute kittens. If I call my friend a jan pona, I’m calling him a good person. … You’re a beautiful person, and everything is beautiful, and everything will be beautiful.
I thought about this as I stood by the river and felt a chill from the inside out. It was the vague, vertiginous horror of loss whose only origin is love—for me, of the whole wide world and its every infinitesimal distinction, between simple and beautiful and good, between all the sounds that ice makes, between the impossibility (true) of the exact right word and the futility (false) of looking for it.
Happy new year, is what I mean to say: here’s to every little difference, every little thing.