Stories for the young adventuress and aunties who love to read aloud.

by Alison L. McConnell

Once upon a time in a dry, hot corner of California lived a girl named Louise who really loved trees.

California has some pretty special trees, you see, and Louise had been visiting them with her family since she was quite small.

There was one particular tree she’d seen in her mother’s photo album that always captured her imagination. It was gnarled, worn and beautiful, laying on its side. It showed up in her dreams sometimes: a tree in Yosemite.

One morning, sleep still clinging to her, Louise meandered into the library and took a book down from a shelf. It was The Yosemite, by John Muir. The book felt soft and worn and comfortable, as though it had been held in her mother’s hands many times.

There they were: royal stands of white pines, mountain hemlocks, cedars, firs, black oaks. Louise flipped through the pages. Even though she’d never been, her dreams of the park made her feel tiny, and very old.

At breakfast that morning Louise said, “Mama, can we go to Yosemite? I want to see the tree in your photo book, and the other trees, too. You said I needed to be a little bit older… am I old enough now?”

Louise’s mother agreed right away. “What a great idea! Yes, you did great on the hikes we did this spring. Yosemite is one of my all-time favorites. Let’s go this weekend.”

She crossed the kitchen and returned from the library with a book of maps. Louise watched her mother trace the road from Hodgdon Meadow to a campground called Crane Flat, then along Tioga Road past Olmsted Point and Tuolumne Meadows.

Louise tried to pronounce some of the names on her own. “Tuolumne” was a challenge, but her mother helped her: Twall-um-nay.

“And we’ll definitely drive into the valley,” her mother said, thinking out loud. “Tomorrow let’s make a list of all the things we’ll need to pack, and what we’d like to cook. Can you help with that, sweetie?”

“Yes!” Louise said. “I can’t wait to go!”

The next day they packed all the supplies they would need in Yosemite. Then they made another list and went to the grocery store.

On Friday, humming with excitement, Louise and her mother packed the car, drove out of San Francisco’s busy, beeping traffic and headed east. Somewhere dry and dusty outside Modesto Louise remembered the photo album.

“Mama, can we go see the tree? The one in your book?”

“I know exactly which one you mean. We will definitely see the tree,” she said.

They arrived at their campsite after dark, but Louise’s mother quickly set up their tent and built a fire while Louise held the lantern. Together they made rice in a pot on a stove with a tiny flame, and cooked four fat sausages in a cast-iron pan over the fire. It was a magnificent supper.

Once they’d cleaned up and gazed at the stars a while, Louise and her mother climbed into their tent and fell fast asleep.

The next morning Louise woke to a twittering chorus of birds. “The air smells so fresh, Mama!”

“It does, doesn’t it? Would you like to help me make the oatmeal?”

“Yes!”

After breakfast they set off for Yosemite Valley. They stood before a massive wall of granite that was so big Louise had to crane her neck to see the top. “This is El Capitan,” her mother said. “See the climbers?”

The afternoon was rainy but Louise and her mother drove to Glacier Point and hiked anyway, with their rain jackets on. Louise saw waterfalls, towering pines and a curved monument of stone called Half Dome. It was the most beautiful thing she could imagine – perhaps even more beautiful than a tree!

When they got back to camp they made another fire and cooked a delicious meal under the stars.

The next morning Louise made the oatmeal all by herself. “Beautiful job! There is simply no breakfast like an outdoors breakfast,” her mother laughed. They packed up their campsite, careful not to leave any trash behind.

“Why does the sky seem so much bigger here, Mama? And bluer?” Louise was looking out the car window.

“I think that’s because it is a special park,” her mother said.

They hiked a giant dome of rock with a view of Tuolumne Meadows. They had lunch by a beautiful lake.

Soon Louise began to feel impatient. When would she get to see the tree? “Just a little bit farther now,” her mother said.

A few minutes later she steered their car off the road into a long, curved parking lot. Lots of people were there, snapping photos of Half Dome in the distance.

Louise looked around and gasped. There it was: the tree from her mother’s book! She ran up to it and touched it with her hand. It was smooth to the touch, impossibly smooth.

Something strange happened then. Louise her a voice say her name, louder than a whisper, right in her ear. She turned in a circle, looking for the source of the sound, but no one was there. Except the tree.

Louise’s mother walked up then and grasped her hand.

“That’s all right darling. Don’t be afraid,” she said quietly.

“Many years ago this tree spoke my name, too. The voice sounds very old, as if it was from another time, doesn’t it?”

Louise nodded, feeling better. She held her mother’s hand tight but kept the other hand on the tree, tracing its swirling lines with her fingers.

They stood for a few long moments. Clouds floated across the very blue sky. Then her mother’s face broke into a grin. “Let’s go home,” she said.

In the car Louise felt exhausted. She drifted in and out of sleep as they wound their way out of the park, back onto the highway and towards the city. Pictures and memories of Yosemite played like a movie in her mind. She remembered the sky. She remembered the tree.

The End