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Learning From an Apocalyptic Summer

Sep 4 2018

 

I have to wear cotton gloves to handle historic negatives, and my co-worker snapped a shot of me scanning some pictures.   Jessica Bitter
 

By Emily Wilson
B.A. History, 2020
Yosemite Archives

Out West Student Blog

Student Blog

As we drove to my farewell lunch in Yosemite Valley, my supervisor, Paul, remarked that a year in the park isn’t complete without some “apocalyptic event.” Fires, floods, snow storms, and rockfalls aren’t just common here, but they are expected. Even so, this summer’s historic Ferguson Fire was memorable, even for those who’ve been here for a while.

As internships go, I’ve had a weird summer.  

I have processed now hundreds of images from park photographers that convey how the park has both evolved and remained the same. Yosemite Falls is as gorgeous as it was in 1937, but you don’t see anyone buying sugar cubes from a valley hotel to feed bears today (yikes).

From a professional standpoint, I’ve learned that both archival work and the National Park Service are career avenues I will consider. Archivists can uncover stories in ways no one else really can, and the Park Service is full of tales that seem too wild to be true. Paul found a police report about someone who stole a helicopter from Crane Flat in the 1960s. Meanwhile, I have processed now hundreds of images from park photographers that convey how the park has both evolved and remained the same. Indeed, Yosemite Falls is as gorgeous as it was in 1937, but you don’t see anyone buying sugar cubes from a valley hotel to feed bears today (yikes). I don’t want to share much about the horrible images I found in the Search and Rescue photograph section, but they were pretty grisly.  I never know what I’m going to discover here.

>The first 6,600 of the 20,000 images in the archives were published this week. Someday, the photos I processed will be online!

The first 6,600 of the 20,000 images in the archives were published this week. Someday, the photos I processed will be online!  

On a more personal level, I’m significantly more confident, and it now takes a lot to rattle me. I use the term “hazardous air quality” with a casual tone now, and I’m accustomed to living in a former fire zone (the hills opposite the town still sometimes catch on fire again). In the archives, I have become a pro at taking stray spiders outside, unrolling painfully brittle maps, and keeping an eye out for potentially hantavirus carrying mouse droppings. I’m comfortable hiking on my own.  I learned how to advocate for my needs during the evacuation, and I’m proud of how I was determined to return to my work as soon as possible.

Still, I would never pretend I could do this alone. I am grateful to my supervisor for taking an entire day to drive me to the Bay Area to ensure I could safely evacuate (I don’t have a car). My housemates are amazing girls, and I can’t imagine better companions for an evacuation. I am grateful to Stanford pals back in the Bay Area who were so kind to me throughout my evac, and to the Bill Lane staff for their help.

My summer internship became more than a way to try out a professional field. I learned not only that I can endure an “apocalyptic event,” but also that I’m lucky to have people in my corner who will go out of their way to ensure I’m okay. I am humbled not only by the grandeur of Yosemite, but also by the kindness shown by my co-workers and loved ones.

It’s definitely been an adventure here, and I can honestly say I’m down for more.

Read more at the Out West Student Blog »

 

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