A trip to Yosemite the third Sunday of May 1993 was a spiritual experience for me. I felt like I was close to God and it was the beginning of my recovery from being a workaholic. Today I can say I’m a recovering workaholic because of this day.
Yosemite and the Spirit of God
It was early morning on the third Sunday in May 1993 when Eileen and I started on our journey from Lemoore, CA to Yosemite National Park. The California weather was ideal and the traffic was light. I was driving and Eileen was navigating. We agreed that I would drive in the morning and Eileen would drive in the afternoon. Each of us would have time to ooh and aah about the scenery we expected to see. During the week a test site mechanic had been telling Eileen about the beauty and virtues of Yosemite. He chided Eileen about Midwestern people always going to see “the trees”. He was adamant the real beauty was in the mountains and waterfalls of Yosemite and not the big Sequoia trees. As Eileen was telling me his story, our expectations were high. We were in for a surprise. The scenic beauty of Yosemite vastly exceeded our expectations.
Eileen navigated us up Route 41 from Fresno so we could enter Yosemite at the south entrance. We had heard stories about heavy visitation and delays at the entrance. We arrived early in the morning, before 9 a.m.. We did not encounter any delays. We climbed the foothills into the mountains. We both took in the grandeur of the mountains and their snow covered peaks. Before us were tall trees, rock outcroppings, and rugged slopes against a pure blue sky. It was easy to see why people liked the San Joaquin Valley of California. You are just a couple of hours from the mountains and a couple of hours from the ocean.
As we continued our entry into the park, the roads became steeper and the curves tighter. The beauty of the mountains and trees was beyond description. I was trying to catch glimpses of the beauty as I drove. However, with the crooked and steep roads I had to concentrate on driving. The road was climbing and I was getting ready to navigate a sharp right turn. On my left, the road dropped off sharply into a deep valley. Suddenly Eileen shouted “Oh look, look.” She was pointing to the left so I turned my head to look. Then she shouted, “Not you, your driving.” We both had a good laugh from that one. The beauty was so magnificent that a person is compelled to shout “Oh look, look.” Little did we know that the beauty yet to come would be even greater.
As our journey continued into the park, we came to a sign that indicated we were going to enter a tunnel. I turned on the lights of the van, took off my sunglasses and we entered the tunnel. As we exited the tunnel, the view took our breath away. There before us was the Yosemite Valley.
Glancing around for a place to stop I spotted a parking lot. I quickly put on the brakes and entered a parking lot on our right. We found a parking place right away. That was a surprise to me. When I travel, parking places are elusive. It usually takes me several attempts to find an empty spot. However, as the day unfolded, I found that Eileen was truly gifted when it comes to finding parking places. We always found one quickly. In the future when I traveled by myself, I seldom found a parking place. When Eileen was with me, we almost always found a parking place on the first attempt. The girl is blessed.
We parked and walked across the road to the overlook. The spectacular beauty of the valley just caused us to stand there in awe and take it in. The wide and long valley lay below us. We looked across the tops of tall tall trees growing on the slopes below us. The mountains towered above us. El Capitan was on our left and Half Dome was far off on our right. Cascading sheets of water from a water fall were in the distance on our right. The contrast of the white water against the dark green pine trees was refreshing. We both took a lot of pictures. Later we would find out this was the overlook where many spectacular pictures of Yosemite are taken. Each of us would choose one of our pictures for our desks back at work in Waterloo, Iowa. The pictures reminded us of the day, the beauty, and the friendship. This was a special day we would remember forever.
We wanted a closer view of the cascading water fall. We got out our park map and determined the road we needed to take to reach the waterfall. Each of us loved waterfalls and for me, this was the largest I had ever seen. Little did I know that on this day I would see three of the tallest waterfalls in the world. We got in the van and started our journey to Bridal Vail Fall. Once more I was surprised that we found a parking spot right away. As we got out of the van, you could hear the roar of the waterfall. The stream below the falls was running and gurgling over rocks on its way to the Merced river. The sound of the gurgling water was so enjoyable. We began following the pathway to the base of the fall.
The temperature started to change and the air was filled with mist from the fall. The falling water was snow melt from the upper mountains. The ice cold mist was cooling the air around the base of the fall. The temperature at the base of the fall was twenty degrees cooler than the parking lot. The cool air felt refreshing. We stopped, watched, listened, and soaked in the majesty of Bridal Vail Fall. We continued up the path to the base of the fall. We literally soaked up the fall as we were drenched by the mist. The mist was heavy and cool. I had a spiritual moment. I could just feel the Holy Spirit soaking into me. The beauty and majesty of the Yosemite Valley was being absorbed into me. I was standing in a magnificent portion of God’s creation. The hand of God was everywhere. I felt that God had surely lived here. It was one of those moments in life when you just feel close to God. We lingered for a while, soaking up the mist.
We decided it was time to move on and see more of the park. As we headed back to the van, I let Eileen get ahead of me. I was being overcome with emotion. The beauty and feelings of this spiritual place should be shared with someone you are in love with. I just wanted to hug Maxine, kiss her, and hold her hand but she was back in Iowa. I was ready to cry I was so overcome with emotion. I was glad Eileen was ahead of me on the path to the parking lot. I had a fleeting thought of hugging Eileen but we were co-workers and that wouldn’t be proper and I always tried to be proper. I was as stubborn about hiding my emotions as I was about working seven days a week on a field trip. It took some effort but I got my emotions under control and hid them. After we became best friends forever, Eileen helped me allow my emotions to surface once in a while. In the future, there would be times when we would shed tears together and today Eileen and I share hugs every chance we get.
We continued our exploration of the park. I knew Eileen had an adventure streak in her. I also knew she was always willing to learn and try new things. Just this week I had taught her how to operate a four wheel drive tractor pulling a towed ripper. She learned quickly and was a good operator. I did not have an adventure streak. I usually stuck to the straight and narrow, following the well trodden path. On this day that would all change.
We had parked the van and were walking on paths and exploring. Eileen said, “Lets go into the cabin area and climb the hills by that waterfall.” I asked, “Can we do that.” She replied, “Gary, this is a park, we can go where we want to.” So we set off. We explored the cabin area where people could rent a cabin for the weekend or the week. It was a very nice area. Eileen set the pace and we started climbing to get up to the base of this waterfall. It wasn’t a difficult climb but it was different for me because I usually stuck to the well traveled path. On this climb, we were making our own path. We finally got to the base of the fall and were standing there, literally, soaking in the mist again.
To our left were some people climbing a steep rock wall. Some were using ropes and some were free climbing. We moved around to look up at the waterfall and the beauty of the cascading water as it fell hundreds of feet. Standing at the base of these falls and looking up at the cascading water we couldn’t help but wonder “what is up there?” “What does it look like up there were all this water is coming from?” “How big are these streams up in the high country?” “How deep is the snow pack up there?” The majesty was so great you just wanted to see more of it.
Suddenly there were several clunk, clunk, clunk sounds. We looked around, “What was that?” Then there were some more clunk sounds, but closer. This time we recognized the clunk sounds were rocks being swept over the fall by the force of the raging water. It was literally starting to rain rocks. I was beginning to wonder about this adventure Eileen was taking me on. Being astute engineers, we recognized those falling rocks would have an adverse affect on our uncovered heads. We were lucky, we had not been hit. We decided it was time to put more distance between us and the base of the fall.
We went back to the van and onto the visitor center. It was time for some food and something to drink. At the visitor center we found a 3D model of the park. It was very interesting to see the vastness of Yosemite. The model helped us see “what is up there” because the roads to the high country were not open due to snow pack. For me it was just more reinforcement that something this beautiful had been created by God and, for the most part, it was still like God created it. It wasn’t like the Midwest where we had cut down most of the trees, broke up the sod, and reshaped the prairies to man’s liking. No, these mountains were just like God created them.
Next we found our way to Yosemite Falls, the most spectacular of all. It was afternoon by now and the traffic was getting heavy. Yosemite Falls is a huge attraction. The parking lot was full of tour busses and cars. We opted for the parking lot on the left and again we found a parking place right away. I was beginning to understand that finding a parking place was not a problem when Eileen was with you.
The height of the falls is just spectacular. The falls are 2425 feet high, the second highest in the world. That height causes the water to come down in three stages of magnificent splendor. The snow melt was near peak and the volume of water cascading down the mountain was huge. You could hear the roar of the falls from a long distance away. The sheets of water cascading down from the cliff were just mesmerizing. The mist cloud at the base of the falls was huge. The mist floating over the observation bridge was just like being in a rain storm. It was awesome. Again, I was just in awe of the beauty of God’s creation. I could just feel God’s spirit soaking into my body.
On the far side of the bridge Eileen and I hiked a short way to the stream. The stream was ice cold from the snow melt. The stream was babbling and singing as the water went over the rocks and boulders. I paused in awe of the spectacular works of God. I had forgotten all about the field test I was doing. I hadn’t felt this good for a long time. It was refreshing. I was beginning the think I should have been seeing some of this beauty over the years I had spent traveling for Deere. Maybe Eileen was right. Maybe I shouldn’t work 7 days a week when I’m on field trips.
From Yosemite Falls we began working our way out of the park. We would take the northern route via highway 120 to Modesto. We stopped at El Capitan and watched some climbers. We stopped at other places to look at meadows and to get other views of some of the falls. The northern route followed the Merced river as it meandered its way down the mountains. The beauty of the Merced river valley is a wonderful sight seeing trip in itself. To us it was the icing on the cake of a spectacular day that had changed my life forever. I felt closer to God than I had ever felt before. Yesterday I had touched a tree that had been alive when Jesus walked the Earth. Today I had witnessed the spectacular beauty of Yosemite and came to feel that God had lived in this place. Yosemite was, and is, a spiritual place for me. Eileen and I had heard the stories of how the Indians protected this valley because it was a spiritual place for them. Truly, Yosemite Valley was the creation of God’s own hand and I had been touched by God on this day.
So Eileen and I talked about getting me off the 7 day a week plan. Eileen enrolled me in her 13 step plan. It had the same 12 steps like most other plans but the 13th step was Eileen. Eileen would look after me and encourage me. I promised to take Sunday’s off when on test trips. She would check on me on Saturday’s, or call me on Monday’s, to make sure I was not working on Sunday. She had helped me start to change my life and become a better person.
Eileen told me not to worry too much about the 12 steps, all I had to worry about was her as the 13th step. If I worked on a Sunday, the 13th step would not be happy!! By this point in my life, I knew the consequences of an unhappy woman. Well, I took it to heart and I changed. On business trips over the next 12 months I also visited the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls. So in a year I went from never being in a national park to having visited four of them. I also made an agreement with Maxine about working overtime. When I was home and working at PEC, I would work longer days when necessary but I would not work weekends. Maxine and I would have more time together. We began taking more long weekends and short trips. Life was getting better.
In the matter of two days my life had been changed in significant ways. I was a more spiritual person because of touching a Sequoia tree and seeing the Yosemite Valley. I had taken a small step to recover from the addiction of being a workaholic. Eileen and I had taken a step to become close friends instead a just co-workers.
My life had changed because the Holy Spirit worked in the lives of Eileen and me. The Holy Spirit kept her from giving up on asking me to go with her. The Holy Spirit persisted on me until I finally listened and agreed to go with Eileen.
Did I recognize the work of the Holy Spirit on this weekend? No, I did not. It is often that way. We are too busy or too stubborn to comprehend the work of the Holy Spirit. But by God’s grace, the Holy Spirit works in and on us to help us and guide us. We all need to take a breath now and then and reflect on how the Holy Spirit has guided our lives, even when we were oblivious to recognize the Holy Spirit at work.
I feel extremely blessed to have had Eileen enter my life as a co-worker, then a friend, and then as a best friend forever. If you don’t think God brings people together to help each other, then you need to look at Eileen and I. I started at Deere in 1965 and Eileen started in 1981. We both worked in engineering but in separate groups, on different floors of the same building, we had separate career paths, and we didn’t even know each other. It could only be God’s plan that would bring a city girl from Washington, DC and a country boy from Story County Iowa, together in November of 1987 in a test group at John Deere. She to share her engineering knowledge and her compassionate and caring personality with him. He to share his knowledge of farming and of navigating Deere culture with her. An then in May of 1993, to place them together in California for a weekend that would lead both of them to become life long friends helping each other navigate their careers and the journey of life. You can offer all the engineering logic or psycho analysis you want, but you will never convince me that our meeting and our relationship was anything but part of God’s plan being guided by the Holy Spirit.
I believe in angels on earth and I believe Eileen is one.