Astounding Yosemite Hike

After the first UFW labor convention was held in Fresno from September 21-23, 1973, Joan and I decided to visit Yosemite for a natural uplift. We rented a tent in Curry Village at the floor of Yosemite Valley not far from swift flowing, Yosemite River. My body and mind felt so relaxed in this pristine environment, I laid back and allowed the sun to warm me and the wind to blow in my face. Attracted by the magnetic force of nature’s beauty everywhere, we walked out through the waving meadows, towering pines, and resting deer to steepled rock formations and fallen red woods.

We were mesmerized by the reflections of nature in the Yosemite River! Most of the water flowing in Yosemite comes from snow-melt in the high country, so runoff decreases during the dry summer. Peak runoff typically occurs in May or June, with some waterfalls often only a trickle or completely dry by August. Other waterfalls, including Vernal, Nevada, and Bridalveil run all year; however, their flow can be very low by late summer.

 

Near Yosemite Lodge, I watched the smoothed rocks glistening through the surface of the river from eons of time, billions of molecules of water striking surfaces, ever shaping the meandering river so that it appears different each visit.

Our trek took us to a bridge and the ever-energetic Vernal Falls tumbling from a precipice a few miles away yet in walking distance up a steep pathway of seemingly carved rock. As we ascended the pathway known as the Mist Trail, we traveled under overhangs and around huge granite formations balancing carefully close to the mountain’s edge. Our eyes drifted to the chasm below ever spiraling down to a pool of greenish blue clear water.

There the sparkling waterfall dropped its winding column of water twisting in the wind over a four hundred foot fall, then shattered the silence with its skittering splashing sounds. Nature had created a rainbow that quivered with the falling water separating into one, two, or three waterfalls in a constantly changing pattern.

Slowly as we trudged carefully on an incline flexing our hamstrings and calf muscles with a full stretch each lunge, we eventually reached an escarpment where we rested. I looked down above the wavy stream of descending translucent chilled liquid from the melting snow-pack above. As we looked upstream, we observed a natural channel through which the blue green fluid passed over a bronze smooth volcanic surface. There it had cut patterns over the many years of erosive activity as if nature had taken a knife to sculpt it for the pleasure of those who admire it. We had reached a hard fought location where the view of Vernal Falls appeared completely different from the vantage point of the pedestrian bridge. Most travelers only saw it from that quick stop and did not tackle the steep and challenging rugged trail we enjoyed.

In another half mile we reached the vista all Yosemite visitors covet, which one can see even from Yosemite’s Valley at the right perspective. We had an unobstructed view of Half Dome and a 360-degree panoramic spectacle of the surrounding peaks, crags, mountains, and huge granite boulders of every size and dimension under white puffy clouds dotted with patches of blue sky.

Red Tailed Hawks, Falcons, Buzzards flew in circles riding thermals and gliding great distances when they rhythmically moved their outstretched wings. We saw Steller’s Jay, American Robin, Acorn Woodpecker, Ravens, and Mountain Chickadees in the pine forests and near rivers and streams American Dipper Dart, White and Gray Herons, and a curious squirrel.

Yosemite Valley’s astounding and marvelous rock formations soaked our spirit. Hungry for sights foreign to the flat San Joaquin Valley, magnificent splendor contrasted with our Bakersfield shanty. We gradually worked our way down a mule path, which dropped rapidly. Soon the trail’s angle encouraged us to trot, then lope like deer. We tried to find a cadence and rhythm to ease our way down. Ever nearer the edge, we followed the trail until we reached the Valley floor.

We returned to our tents in tranquility to dream of the astounding images we had seen. At sunrise, we left this wonderland on the curving road back to work, industry, and commitment. We felt refreshed from our energetic experience of nature’s most wonderful gifts that feed the soul, always available to the observant when in need of inspiration.

 

Daniel C. Lavery, www.danielclavery.com, djasb@aol.com

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Snowball Fight Justice

 

Soon the weather changed and snow covered the Duke University Campus. Snowball fights at Duke could turn dangerous. The snow fell on the campus in January leaving an opportunity to engage in snowball fights. Some fraternity brothers from KA were harassing freshmen and assaulting them with snow balls. 

 
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A huge football player, and future All-American, caught my attention as I had thrown passes to him as a freshman QB practicing with the varsity.  6' 9" tall and two hundred and forty pounds, he was also a vicious defensive end.

 
 

At the fourth floor freshman dorm bathroom with a good view of the quad beneath, I decided to alter the unfair bully-confrontation. From snow that had collected on window sills, I scooped enough to fill half a trashcan and made a pile of baseball-sized snowballs. As the beast attacked a small freshman, and tossed snow down his back, the boy’s books fell in wet mud and snow. My first throw hit the side of the monster’s face and had to sting.

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“I’m coming to get you, you son-of-a-bitch,” he screamed enraged at my assault. He terrified me. Immediately, with just one throw, I had become the target of a dangerous muscular giant. But, he had to run up four floors to find me. He raced to the second floor raging like a wild bull. In seconds, he would appear on my floor. Streaking to my room, farthest from the stairway, luckily on the left, I hid under my bed listening to the damage he did room by room. He threatened mayhem and falsely accused many. I felt pity for those innocent ones caught in his tirade. He swung open my door, but did not notice me huddled under my bed with a blanket over me.

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He slammed the door on his rampage. Every dorm freshmen feared his retaliation. While exposing my classmates to a fierce attack, I had made another narrow escape by using my intelligence, natural athletic ability, courage, and sense of justice that diverted a bully from further harming a helpless freshman. 

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My Favorite Nature Lesson

(Ruthie’s Nature Lesson, by Daniel C. Lavery, an excerpt from All the Difference, Dan read at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena Sunday February 8, 2015 at "IWOSC Reads Its Own" presentation of various authors from 2-4 PM)Dan at Vroman's blowup 2815

Grampa found a large property he bought in North Miami he called “the ranch.” Mom took me there when I pleaded to take my new BB gun to use on a visit. I took target practice on mangrove and palm trees, rocks, and fences as I wandered around a few acres of undeveloped land with many trees, shrubs, and swampy areas. I imagined my adventure took me through a jungle.

blue land crabs many

Something blue covering the ground moved under some white mangrove trees near a saltwater swamp as I approached. Blue land crabs congregated there in the thousands appearing at first like a blue carpet. They frightened me because many had a large claw that looked dangerous, scurried around more quickly than I imagined, and resembled large spiders.

boy with bb gun

Bigger than tarantulas, they had an outer covering that appeared a kind of armor. They scattered when I ran at them and shot my BB gun at the moving targets. War movies taught me about soldiers fighting with their rifles in World War II. Mom and grandmother Ruthie cheered me on when I marched around the dinner table singing military songs with my toy gun on my shoulder pretending I was a soldier.

blue land crab

In the wild foliage, I carried my BB gun as if in battle and ran after the enemy crabs. They retreated lifting their claws in hopeless defense and scuttled under trees in a moist boggy area that reeked with an odd smell like dank garbage. Pursuing my fleeing enemy determined to win the battle, I aimed at these moving targets and learned to shoot ahead of the direction they scooted. Accurately killing many creatures, I stalked them around trees and shrubs in torrid heat. My face became sweaty and the putrid odor emanating from the wet marsh was annoying.

Backtracking in an easterly direction, I heard a lively chirping sound. The source came from a partially hidden small dark bird sitting on a branch in the shade. Silently creeping past a thick stand of hardwood trees about twenty feet away, I feared it would fly away soon so stopped my heavy breathing trying not to frighten it. With my rifle butt in my right shoulder and the barrel pointing at my singing target, I took careful aim and squeezed the trigger slowly when I saw part of the bird in my sights. POW went the gun. The bird fell to the ground without a sound from my direct hit. Silence followed. I raced for a view of the target of my spectacular shot.

As I approached the fallen bird, I saw his colors slowly display themselves, lifted his limp body in my hand, and held him in the light of the sun.

painted bunting in a tree

He had a deep blue head, a blotch of bright yellow on his back, and green on the wings followed by a patch of black. His chest was red. An orange circle wound around his black eyes and his beak was white-gray. None of these colors was visible from a distance. My shot had killed the most beautiful bird I had ever seen. Sobbing because my shot killed one of nature’s most splendid creatures, and miserable for my cruelty, I stumbled home.

Ruthie saw the tears rolling down my cheeks and hugged me. “What’s wrong dear?”

“I just killed this beautiful bird with my BB gun.”

“Why that’s a painted bunting. I can see you are sad for ending its life. We must never kill anything nature created unless it is truly harming someone. That bird contributed his beauty and singing to our backyard. All living creatures have a place in nature we should respect.”

“I feel bad I killed it.”

“I know you do. Come, let’s bury the beauty.”

We dug a hole in the moist ground close by, placed his body in, and covered it with dirt. Ruthie put a tiny wooden cross on the spot from twigs to remember him.

“At first I used my BB gun just to take target practice, but then shot some blue crabs in the back pretending they were my enemy.”

The expression on Ruthie’s face changed. "Oh Danny!" She pulled out a book from her library, thumbed to an article: “You killed quite an interesting specimen that delivers its babies in salt water as larva who become baby crabs in forty-two days. The blue land crab determines direction using vibrations, landmarks, prevailing winds, and light during the day, and by identifying the brightest part of the horizon at night. Females carry their eggs on their skin for two weeks before depositing them in salt water. Aren’t they amazing? Promise never to mistreat our land crabs again.”

“I’m sorry I killed any.”

“Now look out the front window and tell me what you see between the rose bushes.”

golden garden spider large body

“A giant spider in a huge web! It looks scary.”

“Use this paper, sit at the table, and sketch the Golden Garden Spider’s web.”

golden garden spider in web

After drawing for a few minutes, I realized my fear of spiders might have made me kill it if Ruthie hadn’t caught my attention. Spending three hours depicting the web that wound in different directions and shimmered when the sunlight reflected off some of it, caused me to admire the fascinating insect. Ruthie saw the care I took in drawing the complex strands and patterns the large spider had woven.

golden garden spider in web with white marks

“You have captured that Golden Garden Spider’s magnificent web. Let’s frame your drawing so we can appreciate what you drew. Now you won’t ever kill something man could not create.”

Daniel C. Lavery retired in 2006 and developed a passion for writing a memoir of a slice of his unusual life from five to thirty five that resulted in his newly published book, All the Difference, in paperback at http://www.amazon.com/All-Difference-Daniel-C-Lavery/dp/1482676532/ It is available for a free look inside of the first 6 1/2 chapters at Dan's website at http://www.danielclavery.com and for Amazon's Kindle version at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00BNXHV9Q.

Knowing Dan had a life story with an important message of how one could change from a pawn in the military to a champion for the poor and powerless, motivation was never a problem. He retired as a civil rights attorney for farm workers and the poor from 1972 to 1976 and opened a private practice concentrating on civil rights, consumer protection, employment discrimination, and criminal appeals. Beginning with an autobiography for his outline he discovered from informal critique groups that he had much to learn about the craft of creative writing. This enhanced his understanding of authoring a book that would reach a wide audience. Creative writing classes at local community colleges enhanced his memoir as the writer developed his art from authors of many genres including memoir, poetry, and fiction. After five such courses he winnowed his sprawling story to a focused forty chapters and an "Afterward" that received strong support from writers, professors, friends, his editor, and many readers who wrote five star reviews. All the Difference will resonate with many readers, especially the baby boomers who lived through the same period, and is pertinent to all readers showing how a naval officer cheated death and defied the odds learning determination, integrity, tenacity, resilience, and litigation expertise regardless of what obstacles confronted him on his path to a productive life assisting others less fortunate.

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Cultural Awakening in Japan

Story Salon                     Dan Reading poem at Onion Fall Poetry Festival 11102013

(Below was my presentation at the Story Salon this evening)

I am 15 in Japan on my first day of school with my brother Chip where Dad was stationed as a Naval Commanding Officer at Yokosuka Naval Base

Every school day at 7:00 A.M., Chip and I walked a mile to an electric train that took us to Kamakura. We caught a larger train to a city called Sushi passing a huge statue of Buddha’s mother, Maya, in Ofuna, the site of one of the most hideous concentration camps. Crowds of Japanese workers, professionals, and students nudged the person in front until the warning bell and then they shoved smiling until each car was stuffed so different than in America where touching seems forbidden. From there we boarded a grey Navy bus to Yokohama High for our first class at 8:15 A.M. The one-hour commute covered thirty miles.

Japanese Commuter Train

On my first trip, I looked around and, for the first time, realized what a member of a racial minority felt like when surrounded by people with backgrounds alien to mine, whose skin and hair color, eyes, foreheads, differed significantly from my features. I studied the faces of the people called “Japs,” in war movies, often depicted as inferior vicious buck-toothed warriors, a “yellow menace,” the allied forces had fought in World War II. Fanatic fascists who would never surrender, President Truman felt compelled to drop two atomic bombs, decimating them like so many insects.

Upon careful inspection, however, each face had a wide variety of unique characteristics. They had long or short noses, relaxed or tightened mouths, and different hair styles. Many wore hats and long, or short dresses, or silk kimonos of all colors, and black school uniforms with white shirts. Others sported three-piece suits with brief cases and wore glasses of every kind imaginable. The males had their hair slicked straight back, wavy, crew cut, or bald. Their skin pigment varied from dark to light, and every shade in between, some were clean-shaven; others had beards or a mustache.

They did not move like the automatons, or simplistic people portrayed in newsreels I had watched. The Japanese stereotypes portrayed in the movies had propagandized and prejudiced me. The Japanese were actually far more complex and distinctive.

When I attempted to communicate in my broken Japanese, they were responsive in either good or broken English, courteous, and welcoming. They seemed delighted when an American boy showed enough interest in their culture to ask a question in elementary Japanese and were as intelligent, industrious, and, often, as athletic as any American. This awareness helped me learn one of life’s most important lessons: we are all part of one race, the human race. No race, because of any attribute, over which they have no control, stands inferior, or superior, to any other.

Buddha in Kamakura Avatar

Nearby the bronze statue of the Great Buddha majestically rose above stone steps encircled by natural vegetation. A Japanese garden rested behind the immense meditating figure that induced a sense of tranquility from his facial expression, folded hands on his knees, his seated posture, and the ambiance of the surroundings. The adjacent Hachiman Shrine held the Shinto god of war and archery, in an old reddish-orange wood building with a sloping roof.

sunrise over Fuji with Torii

Located at the top of stone steps on the other side of a park, a long approach formed a tunnel ending at a large vermilion stone entrance with a black lintel known as Torii. For those who follow Shinto, this structure divides the spiritual area within from the profane region beyond. Shaped like two “T”’s their trunks straddled the cherry trees, whose white blossoms spread like dancers on branches. Petal blizzards covered the ground like pink dotted snowflakes mixed with shiny green leaves while gangs of squirrels romped, darted, and danced.

Alex(Yoshio Suzuki) Birthday Chip, Bill and Dan top left)Kamakura 1955

(Chip, Bill, Dan, top left back row at birthday party with Japanese friends from Kamakura 1955)

In another location thousands of bystanders watched a traditional spectacle featuring mounted equestrian archers in black shaggy wigs adorned in hunting costumes of feudal samurai warriors from the Kamakura period (1192-1333). The horsemen shot arrows from quivers slung across their backs as they raced at three targets set up along a straight riding ground eight hundred feet long. The turnip-head arrows made a whistling sound as they flew through the air. The large crowd loudly applauded each time an archer scored a direct hit. They shot, quickly reloaded, and launched arrows in a swift coordinated motion. A few hit all three targets that caused a thunderous roar.

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  Buddha Smiles in Kamakura

Bronze folded hands and Buddha’s smiling face,

White circular blossoms from cherry trees

Smoothing the wrinkles of the human face.

Blossoms tumbling down and spreading in space,

Beckoning all to seek a world of peace.

Bronze folded hands and Buddha’s smiling face.

Nature’s beauty slowing man’s frenzied pace.

Flying buzzing pollen gathering bees,

Petals like a dancer’s dress of white lace.

Bronze folded hands and Buddha’s smiling face.

Gentle wind blowing waves upon blue seas,

Swallows flying, drifting, gliding in grace.

Archer’s arrows whistling shatter the base.

At warrior’s thunder animals freeze.

Bronze folded hands and Buddha’s smiling face.

White flowers placed at Buddha’s feet in vase.

Peaceful worshipers fall down on their knees,

Seeking enlightenment and state of grace.

Bronze folded hands and Buddha’s smiling face.

(Excerpt modified from my Memoir, All the Difference, for presentation at the Story Salon this evening)

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Cheating Death

 (This is the Story Salon in Valley Village where I presented this true story last night, September 16 along with seven other story tellers to a lively crowd)

Story Salon

I am 16 and the quarterback on a high school football team in Japan

After football practice a week before our family was scheduled to return to America in October 1956, our eight-person carryall broke down a few miles from Yokohama. The engine flooded and the smell of gasoline nauseated me. I had to get outside. Our Japanese driver called the Navy base for a replacement and said, “New van arrive forty-five minute.”

Having been YoHi football team’s quarterback for two years, every teammate formed a habit of following my directions. While standing outside the vehicle and looking around, I leaned in and said, “Come outside now.” They scrambled out. I pointed, “See those tracks running around that hill? If we follow them, they’ll lead to a train station. We can catch one and walk to the Naval Station an hour or sooner than if we wait for a van.”

“Sounds good,” said Tex, a tough first-team tackle.

Everyone nodded in agreement.

“We go to find nearest train, Diajobu des ne?”(OK?) I said to the driver.

“Abunaio!” (Be careful!) “Kiotsketi kudasai.” (Take it easy, please,) the driver said mouth open and wrinkled brow.

Seven athletes aged fifteen to seventeen followed me. We scrambled over rough brush and found a pathway up a slope. In ten minutes we reached two sets of tracks. As we rounded the hill, a narrow tunnel appeared that resembled a black hole.

Night view of railway tunnel

Night view of railway tunnel

“This looks dangerous,” Tex said. “These trains race through the tunnel with little room for us.”

“Don’t worry. If a train comes on one track we can jump to the other,” I said.

“Yeah that’s right,” our fullback, Ron, said.

Two others nodded in agreement and the rest followed.

Running toward the tunnel, the setting red sun sent a glow behind me. The inside of the tunnel was barely visible. After racing into the tunnel, everyone followed at my heels. We had a foot of clearance on each wall in the dark cavity and two feet between the tracks. Dank darkness quickly enshrouded us. It seemed like we had fallen into a black soup as we slowed to avoid stumbling on the wooden planks now in utter blackness.

When we had advanced a third of the way, I sensed danger. A swift-moving train whizzed around the corner at us. A water droplet fell from the moldy ceiling into my eyes. After brushing it away, the flying mass of steel zoomed toward us. A looming light grew rapidly larger and a roaring rattling rumble followed. “Jump right!” I shouted. The blast of the train drowned out my voice. The train’s light revealed seven moving forms.

The steel thunderbolt’s warning bell changed from a high-pitched sound to a descending tone DING DING DINg DINg DIng Ding ding ding din din as it passed us with a deafening clattering at over ninety miles per hour.

Another booming train streaked at us on the opposing track! A horn howled and screamed as it approached. Its warning bell grew louder. Both trains doubled the blaring racket. My heart pounded; my breath heaved; I almost panicked. The heavy weight of shock choked me. I never should have urged my friends to enter the tunnel. Racing on the right track careful not to trip, we were nearly clobbered by the hurtling train from behind. Finally, the first train passed us with a WHOOSH.

“Jump left!” I screamed.

Could they hear me? The new train’s explosive reverberation was deafening. Its rotating light fluttered over our leaping forms. The unexpected steel blur jolted past at blazing speed and threw a forceful blast of hot muggy air at us. Expecting the worst I gazed back as all jumped in time to avoid disaster. The cars bumped and clattered as the steel wheels clickity–clacked and the wind rushed by our sweating faces.

Breathing an enormous sigh of relief, I was ecstatic from our good fortune. We had cheated death. We raced toward the silver light signaling the other entrance of the tunnel. In a mad dash for the growing sunbeams towards life, panting, sweating, I emerged and faced my friends. Tex and a few others stumbled out after me, exhaustion all over their faces. Sweat ran down their foreheads into their eyes and cheeks. They gasped for breath and stumbled toward me. Tex rushed up with fire in his eyes, “Jesus! What the fuck! Lavery, you almost got us killed!”

“Holy Shit! How did we make it?” Ron said.

“Ah Ah I’m so sorry,” passed emotionally out my mouth with fear written over my face. “I never should have led you guys into that tunnel.” We walked towards the station a few blocks away and huddled. “Hey guys. Please don’t tell anyone about this. Our parents won’t understand,” I said.

Tex and the others gradually agreed. We all shook on it.

On the train back, the tunnel train dodging affected me deeply. It made me appreciate life’s gifts I seemed to have taken for granted. Coming close to death not once, but twice in seconds, made me feel I must live more wisely. My thoughtless actions nearly killed eight young men. The shock of near death awakened a feeling of responsibility. That moment of awareness heightened my senses. I clasped my hands, felt the warmth of each finger intertwined, and breathed deeply. Time seemed to slow to a standstill so glad we were all alive.

The advice of my grandmother Ruthie, came back. Having noticed me rushing around as a teenager full of anxiety, “Slow down, Danny,” she said, “Find the harmony in nature. Life is precious.”

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