His first trip to Yosemite National Park was the summer he turned 3. I have an old photo of a woolly-headed little boy, grinning ear to ear, standing in the river with his arms stretched wide as if to say, "Look! God made this place just for me!"
Nate was my baby, the youngest of my three. Every summer, when my husband took a break from teaching, we would strap the kids in the van and pack a week's worth of groceries and camping gear around them. Then we'd drive four hours from our home on the coast to spend a week camping in the park.
That week meant a lot to each of us, for different reasons.
For my husband, a fourth-generation Californian, it was the continuation of a tradition that had started in his family long before he was born. Outside of a classroom or a gym or a baseball field, Yosemite was his favorite place on Earth.
For my oldest, it was a chance to chase lizards and catch frogs.
For my daughter, it was a time to read and work on her tan.
For me, it was a place of renewal. The granite faces of the mountains, the quiet rush of the river, the familiar whisper of the wind in the redwoods, were like a tonic that made me feel new.
It did that for all of us, really, but especially for Nate. Like his dad, Yosemite was his favorite place, the place he felt most free.
After the kids began going off to college, it was tough to get everyone together. But we kept the Yosemite tradition as best we could, even in the years my husband was battling cancer.
The summer after he died, the boys and I camped (without their sister, who was working), using the reservation their dad had made for us the year before.
Nate was just out of high school, unsure about college or plans for his future. I was sitting by the river watching the light play on Half Dome when he came back from a hike and told me that he had stopped in the park office and gotten a job.
We drove home the next day, packed up his things, then drove back to Yosemite. I left him waving goodbye in front of a tent cabin that would be his home for the next year. He began cleaning campground bathrooms and ended up running the ski shop.
In that year, he grew up. He came home from Yosemite the man his dad knew he would be.
Now he teaches third grade at the school where he once tried to smuggle his blankie into his first day of kindergarten.
Nate is also a husband and the father of two little boys, who are both named for his dad.
Randy is almost 3, with woolly red curls. Wiley is 6 months old, with toes like his nana's.
This morning, Randy called me from Yosemite.
"Hi, Nana," he said.
He was staying in a cabin with his parents and his brother (in a place that sounded like "Yosinamee") and he wanted to tell me that he and his daddy had gone out last night with flashlights looking for a bear!
My heart skipped a beat. Then his dad took the phone to explain. They found a bear in the camp store. It cost $8.
Randy doesn't know, of course, that he and his brother are keeping a tradition that began before they were born.
He has no idea what it means to his daddy to show him all the natural wonders that he first saw when he was Randy's age.
He can't begin to understand how proud his granddad would be to see his boy -- a grown man with little boys of his own -- in that hallowed place, hunting with a flashlight for bears.
He's much too little to fathom such fine, unfathomable things.
But he will. Soon enough. Absolutely. One day he will know, as I do, that God made this world just for us.
Maybe next summer, Lord willing, his nana can go bear-hunting with him.
(Sharon Randall can be contacted at P.O. Box 777394 Henderson NV 89077 or at www.sharonrandall.com.)