When There Isn’t A “Next Time”

Last summer, we managed to land one of those lottery entries to Yosemite. We’ve been there plenty of times over the years, but this was the longest we’d ever stayed, so instead of doing a surgical strike like usual, we visited nearly every easily accessible area of the National Park.

The part that I was most looking forward to seeing was Mariposa Grove, since it had been closed for restoration for several years, and we were anxious to see how the restoration had changed it since our previous visit, back in the early 2000s. This area is located the farthest from where we were staying (Groveland), so we planned to drive through the park to the South Entrance on the way home. We also scheduled a horseback trail ride in that area.

The trail ride just outside Yosemite was blissful.

Well, when the day came, we realized we had overscheduled ourselves. The house we had rented was one of those with an extensive check-out to-do list, including putting away dishes after running the dishwasher. The dishwasher was extremely slow. By the time we left the house, we realized we’d have to drive right to the horseback riding company to make our trail ride, so we figured we could double back to Wawona and Mariposa Grove after. But once we finished riding, when we did the math, it seemed going back would mean driving home in the dark.

We decided to punt on Mariposa Grove.

“There’s always next time,” we told each other.

But is there? Turns out, not always.

Last week, a major wind storm kept me awake late into the night, but it didn’t do any real mischief at our house on the edge of the Bay. Yosemite was a different story. The wind knocked down 15 of those mature giant sequoias we had meant to see. Although the trees that fell weren’t the “named” superstars, they took out the restroom and boardwalk, and now Yosemite says the area will be closed indefinitely.

Sigh.

It’s a tiny loss in a year of losses both big and small. Of more than 400,000 Americans, of graduations, of weddings, of big vacations and casual get-togethers. Back when we started canceling things last March, we didn’t say “cancel.” We said “postpone.” We said, “There’s always next year.”

When one of my best friends lost her father to Covid, I thought of plans her family had postponed and realized that, for her dad, there would be no next time. And for the whole family, there would be no true do-over either, because even if they take the trip or had the holiday they might have had in 2020, it won’t be the same because Dad won’t be there.

There’s no real news you can use here, because it’s not like I advocate overscheduling yourself when you do get to travel, running yourself and your family ragged to check every box just because you may never come this way again. Indeed, that’s an instinct I actively work against in myself.

Better to use this as a lesson in accepting, I guess. We made the right call on that lovely day last August. We didn’t have time to visit Mariposa Grove, and it would have made our day worse if we’d tried. I guess next time instead of telling myself “There’s always next time,” I’ll remember to say, “Maybe next time.”

If I’ve learned anything in the past year, it’s that maybe is all we ever had to begin with.

This week, some folks very dear to me received their first Covid-19 vaccine doses. We talked about making plans for them to fly out and see us, once they’d received the second doses. There are a lot of unknowns, like whether the vaccine will stop them from spreading the disease to us unvaccinated folks, or only prevent them getting sick. We want to see them so badly, but of course we don’t want to make this horrid pandemic worse for ourselves or for the world.

So we didn’t make plans like we once would have. We said maybe we can see each other. And after all the cancellations and the many months without any forward plans, “maybe” felt as delicious as “definitely” once felt.

“Maybe” might not be the gift I put on my wish list, but I’m not sending it back.

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