Stories from the Field

50 Stories for 50 Years: Cindi Myers

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My connection with NatureBridge goes back decades. In late October 1973, as a senior in high school, I joined 27 of my classmates for a week at Yosemite Institute. It wasn’t my first time exploring the great outdoors, or Yosemite for that matter, but it was magical. I loved it so much that when the opportunity arose to return for another week the following May, I jumped at it.

What made Yosemite Institute so special? Lots of things — learning lessons that wouldn’t have made any sense if we hadn’t actually experienced them, forming bonds with classmates (and teachers!) that never would have happened at school, the unique environment of the Crane Flat campus and the educators, those wonderful people who taught us so much while we just thought we were having fun. And oh my gosh, we had so much fun!

The only pictures I have from Yosemite Institute are a couple of blurry old black and white photos in my high school yearbook, but the snapshots in my head are better than any photograph: 

  • Spending the night at a nearby fire lookout. November, and it was cold. Fog rolled in, and we woke up to find our sleeping bags coated in ice crystals (which I now know as ‘pogonip.’ That’s what we call freezing fog in northern Nevada.) Then we danced silly folk dances to keep warm until the sun came up.
  • Sitting around the campfire as one of our educators recited from memory The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert Service. I appropriated his idea when I went to work at a wilderness camp the following year, reading (not reciting!) that fun poem to our campers.
  • Hiking the Mist Trail in May. I had hiked this trail with friends a few years previously, and we had actually swum in a pool near the top of one of the falls. Not this time! The river was raging, the falls were gushing and yes, the trail was very misty.
  • Craft time where we dyed wool with natural dyes — acorns, lichen, mistletoe. Then we spun the wool roving into yarn. I still have that lumpy (but still colorful!) old yarn, waiting for the day I decide to use it in a piece of fiber art.
  • And then there’s the memory I’m sure some would rather forget: the five-holer. This was the “girls restroom.” Four walls, a roof, and a wooden plank with five holes. No stalls, no partitions. We got comfortable with our fellow campers really fast! What a relief, when I returned in May, to find they’d installed privacy screens.

The memories go on. I loved my time in Yosemite; not just there, but all of the places I experienced in my youth, from the grand national parks of the west to the smaller but no less wonderful county and city parks on the San Francisco peninsula, where I grew up. Heck, even the little creek that ran through our neighborhood in Redwood City was an endless source of exploration and discovery.

My life took a drastic turn just a few short years later, when I was badly injured in a car accident. Since then, mobility for me involves a wheelchair, or crutches and leg braces. Getting out into the wilderness is a lot more complicated. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but...hiking the Mist Trail on crutches? I’m not that tough! So I cherish those memories from my time spent in nature when I was young. These days, I’m lucky enough to live where I can gaze out my window at the Sierra Nevada mountains that I love so much. Looking at that beautiful view, I know that nature is waiting to bestow her endless gifts on anyone lucky enough to spend time outdoors.

Which brings me back to Yosemite Institute. I had not kept in touch — didn’t even know if they still existed — until about six years ago. I was reading an article in Sunset about outdoor education and an organization called NatureBridge, “formerly Yosemite Institute.” I got in touch and was welcomed with open arms. I was even treated to a tour of good old Crane Flat and the new National Environmental Science Center (NESC). Crane Flat has hardly changed in all these decades. Even the five-holer is still there, although no longer in use, thank goodness. You new folks over at the NESC don’t know what you’re missing!

So, to my friends at NatureBridge, a huge thank you for the awesome work you do. Here’s to the next 50 years!

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