Editor’s Note: My Heart’s in Yosemite

Grappling with the Yosemite Rim fire, Reader's Digest editor-in-chief Liz Vaccariello reflects on what the beautiful American park meant to her father.

Liz Vaccariello
Photograph by Steve Vaccariello; Wardrobe Stylist: Elysha Lenkin

As I write, Yosemite burns. My story begins on the opposite coast.

The summer before my dad died, the whole family spent a week in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, one of the last places my father wanted to see but never had.

The sound side beckoned, and then we learned that it was home to a rather populous group of water moccasins (one bite can kill). Our intrepid group decided to rent Jet Skis anyway. Terrified of snakes, I sat out the excursion and watched with alarm as the guides clomped around in the water, pitchforking the sandy bottom as the guests made their way to their watercrafts.

As this potentially dangerous spectacle unfolded before me, I sat on the dock with Dad and asked him if the Outer Banks were everything he’d hoped (yes) and what was the most beautiful place he’d ever seen in his life.

“Yosemite,” he answered without pause. “There is a moment as you’re driving on State Road 41, and you emerge from a tunnel, and it takes your breath away. To your left is El Capitan, to your right is Half Dome, and the valley spreads out before you.

“I swear,” he said, his voice breaking, “it makes you believe there is a God.”

Two summers later, the family traveled to the park with Dad’s ashes.

We’d made plans to visit the exact vantage points he’d loved and to leave a little of him everywhere.

This year, my heart pounds as I watch the Rim Fire roar. We’ve touched the sequoia trees. My daughters have scrambled on the boulders at the base of Yosemite Falls. I’ve eaten a turkey sandwich on the meadow in the bosom of the valley, and I’ve fly-fished the river that feeds the Hetch Hetchy reservoir.

News reports reassure me that the majestic sequoia can withstand fire. I find peace in that. They’re in this together, Dad and some 3,000-year-old trees.

—Liz, @LizVacc, Liz@rd.com

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