By Judy Folkenberg
To be frank, the black and white photos aren’t very good. They were taken by my father in the late 1940’s of a place where I later camped as a child, the most beautiful place in the world: Yosemite, California. I never called Yosemite, “the most beautiful place in the world,” because children don’t talk that way. You just know that somehow certain places are special–and you carry that knowledge into adulthood.
My brother, parents, and I camped in an army green tent with a peaked roof and an entrance with a tied back flap under tall ponderosa pines whose needles littered the forest floor; the sweet smell drifting through the air. We swam in the cold, pure waters with Yosemite Falls as our background. And we ate our supper in the clean sharp air from plastic sectioned plates usually with a breeze that drifted through the campground and across the water. The days were hot and lazy, a golden wonder; the nights chilly, as we snuggled in our army green sleeping bags on wooden cots.
Unfortunately that was then and the now has changed. I haven’t been back to Yosemite since I was seven years old. I understand too many humans clog its natural pathways. It’s expensive to get through the gates, it’s probably noisy, and it’s become far too popular a place to visit. I’ve been told there’s a theme park whiff about it. And, of course we all know, “you can’t go home again.”
You Can’t Go Home Again is the title of Thomas Wolff’s famous novel where the protagonist realizes that he can’t relive his youthful memories or go back home to the way things used to be. And the phrase is used tirelessly to explain how you can’t revisit the past. After all, the truth about childhood places is elusive and probably should be remembered with caution; like a girl’s first love we pick and choose what we want to relive
But what most people don’t realize, is that despite the title of the novel, there’s another quote the protagonist makes, which is not so well-known: “But…why had he thought so much about it and remembered it with such blazing accuracy, if it did not matter… All that he knew was that the years flow by like water, and that one day men come home again.”
So, one day I will go home again. I will go back to Yosemite. But until that happens I can do something else. I can preserve that time as a child through my art. I’m a book artist. I will make small books (known as “chap books,” and the format has been around since the 1500’s) that feature my dad’s photos of Yosemite. Because even though they “aren’t very good,” there’s really no such thing as a bad photograph of Yosemite.