I began to learn how to program while I was living in Yosemite. I would wake up at five and do an hour-long lesson before work. I had a desk facing the front window of my house, looking west, towards two small peaks. While I worked, the peaks slowly became differentiated from the brightening sky. And then the sun rose.
All of the reasons that I have now for learning to program didn't exist to me at the time. I didn't make the connection between my fascination with the park's systems and the understanding of systems that programming would provide. I was bored and curious.
And I was desperate. For years, I had been trying to write stories and poems, and I was unimpressed with my progress. Programming and working with sound — which I also began in Yosemite — provided what seemed to be miraculous exits from my previous work, and from language, which had been poisoned by my education and by the growing pains in my own practice.
But this time, and these motivations, have collapsed. It's difficult to look back and remember what I knew and did not know at the time: which patterns I could articulate, which I had intuited, and which I did not yet, in any capacity, see. My memories have been compressed into a kind of dense, opaque evaporite.
In the early days of the Park, El Portal was the terminus of the Yosemite railroad. From the small settlement, visitors had to travel twelve miles into the Yosemite Valley by horse or by foot. The small mountains above El Portal were also, for a half century or so, mined for barite, an evaporite composed of barium and sulfate.
During my last weeks in Yosemite, I often saw fire fighters in bright orange suits climbing into the yellow mountains by the mines to undertake controlled burns. Everyone was worried about wildfires. It hadn't rained in at least two months.
I had spent a month that spring processing the Yosemite Fire Department records, and I felt very close to the threat. Through the records, I saw the park's policies morph, from the early days of suppressing all fires into systematic controlled burns. Still, the years of fire suppression had left unnatural amounts of brush, leading to the catastrophic "megafires" that California has experienced over the past three decades.
And then, one evening, just as it was getting dark, it began to rain. The windows were open. I smelled the rain before I heard it. Wafting through the house, the release of so many leaves, the weeds, the trees: the decay of an accreted threat. The smell remained after the storm was over.
Just beyond my backyard was a protected archaeological site — huge granite boulders with round impressions, where, thousands of years ago, someone had ground acorns into meal. The day after the storm, the impressions were filled with water.
Rain did not come again. Later in the summer, after I left, a fire closed Highway 120, the only direct route from El Portal to Mono Lake.