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  • Valerie Brooke, MD

Perfect Versus Good

It was Voltaire who is attributed with the aphorism “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” I have been contemplating this daily here on my vacation in Yosemite National Park, trying to discern between a perfect versus a good vacation experience. As I wrote about in last week’s blog Make Friends with Reality, the week did not start off perfect at all. The start of our trip was delayed by the apparent loss of our cat Strider, who decided to show up, from some black hole inside the house no less, after I had finally accepted the possibility of not going to Yosemite at all. After he sauntered into the kitchen, my mood quickly shifted as I realized we would get on the road late, but the mountains that I knew would restore my soul were now within reach.


The drive was long and hot, though we had the complete and uncut version of Stephen King’s The Stand on audible keeping us company. We were only 8 hours into a 37-hour audiobook; we’d probably still be listening the following summer while driving to the next National Park on our list, Yellowstone. Ronando was sleeping as we entered the park, as I waited in a long line of cars despite the late hour, grateful that at least we had a reservation. I slowly drove past the trailhead of a small hike I had planned to do in the north side of the park; now there was no time as it was dusk, and we still had over an hour to drive to the south side where our rented cabin waited for us. We’d have to hit this hike on the way home at the end of the week. No problem I told myself, another opportunity for me to be flexible and learn to “go with the flow,” something I am not that good at.


The following morning, we slept in, leaving later than anticipated for a hike to a “thunderous” waterfall nearby, Chilnualna Falls. As soon as we got out of the car, the mosquitos dove at us, dive bombing like they hadn’t had a good bloody meal in weeks. Good thing a patient of mine had warned me about the bugs the week prior, so I had added bug spray into our cache of supplies. I had not had to deal with biting bugs since I moved away from New England 30 years ago. A layer of stinky spray went over the layer of sunscreen, and we headed up the trail to the falls.


To say I was disappointed is a grand understatement. The waterfall was a mere trickle. We tried to get closer to the water, to see and hear it, only to be further devoured by mosquitos that obviously were not even mildly deterred by the bug spray. It was late in the morning and close to 90 degrees. I tried to take some photos and realized I brought the wrong camera lens. We did not go very far up the trail before deciding to turn around. It wasn’t a perfect hike, nor even a good hike. We went back to our cabin dismayed and decided to try again the following morning, though this time we would head to Yosemite Valley.


We got up earlier the second day, and headed down to the Valley floor, planning on doing a 6-mile loop that would allow us to see all the famous sites of Yosemite: Yosemite Falls, Half-Dome, and El Capitan. We started out and were once again immediately swarmed by mosquitos. We sprayed more and more bug juice all over our clothes and hats and exposed skin; I am convinced the spray had an insect attractor instead of a repellant. We used our hats to constantly wave away the bugs, praying that as it warmed up the bugs would give up. We got lost several times, unsure which way the trail went, as the signs were spaced out far and didn’t seem to match the map we had. Once we finally got out of the woods and into a warm meadow, the bugs lightened up, as well as my mood.


Until I looked up at the peaks and saw that they were covered by a fine haze. A fire haze. I checked the weather app on my phone and noted the air quality index was in the “unhealthy range for sensitive people,” which I fell into as I have asthma. I had remembered to bring my inhaler on the trip but had left it back at the cabin. Great. I was less concerned about my breathing and much more disappointed that my photos wouldn’t be that grand due to the particles in the air. I had the right camera lens today, yet the universe had another plan for me that day. Oh well, it is what it is, I told myself, and kept moving forward.


The first side trail we arrived at was to Yosemite Falls, and we eagerly set up the trail, tolerating the increase in mosquitoes as we entered the shade as we had now adjusted to them buzzing around looking for an open area of mealy skin. A quarter mile later we got to the bridge that looked up at the falls and noted a very large and dry riverbed. No water. At all. With my camera I could see a very small trickle of waterfall way up high; too small to create any downstream effects. The lack of water was quite depressing, and as we turned back to the main trail, we talked again about the devastation of climate change and our desire to move north as soon as possible to have more access to water.


Just as we got to the bottom of the trail, as I could feel the heavy weight of intense heat, fire haze, and lack of water dampening our experience of Yosemite, I looked at Ronando and said, “Let’s focus not on the lack of, but the beauty that is still present all around us.” He agreed and less than a minute later pointed out a mule deer a few feet away from us, drinking water from a barely noticeable water puddle. The deer had large fuzzy antlers, a growing male, assertive and not at all afraid of us. He drank some water, ate some leaves from the bushes at the edge of the water, then came right up the bank toward us. He was so close and so unafraid I thought he would walk right up to me. Instead, he looked right at me as if to say, “You’re right Valerie, there is beauty here. Right in front of you. Keep looking.” He then sauntered down the path, looking back once or twice to remind me: don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good.

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