The little things win again

Slinky!

Slinky!

Most people come to Yosemite National Park for the waterfalls, the iconic rock formations, the historic structures. On some level, we came for those things, too.

In the end, however, what my kids will take away most vividly from this year’s adventure were experiences that revolved around some of the tiniest creatures they saw all weekend: Caterpillars. Fuzzy little caterpillars.

The love affair began yesterday morning on the way to breakfast. It was early. We were tired. We rounded a bend on the walking trail from our cabin to the lodge restaurant and found ourselves face to face with a granite boulder covered with caterpillars.

L and R missed them at first, but my father and I simultaneously exclaimed, “Look, girls! Caterpillars!” I wasn’t sure how the kids would react, especially given their recent fear of bugs. Still, 20 minutes after we pointed out the creepy-crawlies, the kids were still playing with the slinky little bugs.

After breakfast, we drove into Yosemite Valley for that watercolor painting class. We had lunch. We marveled at Half Dome in the distance. We waved to The (hotel formerly known as the) Ahwahnee. We hiked to see Yosemite Falls. We played pooh sticks in the Merced (for the second consecutive visit). We squinted to spot climbers on El Capitan. Still, all the kids could talk about were the damn caterpillars.

Caterpillars, caterpillars, caterpillars. It was becoming an episode of that A&E show, “Obsessed.”

Yesterday morning, it was more of the same. I allowed L to “collect” one of the creatures on the way to breakfast; she kept it in a clear plastic cup with a lid. After we ate, we piled in the car to see another of the park’s one-of-a-kind features: Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.

To make a long story short (I’ll probably blog about that next week), our outing ended sooner than expected. When we got back to the cabin, the girls went caterpillar-hunting again.

This time their interest reached a fever pitch. The two of them foraged for sticks and leaves to build a “caterpillar hotel” in which to house any creatures that happened to wander by. When they returned with supplies, R got down on her hands and knees and scrubbed the surface of the cabin patio “so it would be clean for the caterpillars.”

Finally, this morning, on our way back from our final breakfast here at the Evergreen Lodge, I granted their wish, and allowed each of them to harvest a total of six caterpillars as pets. Each girl put the bugs in a large plastic cup with a lid. Each girl foraged for sticks and moss and leaves and other “natural stuff” from the forest to include in their cups. And each girl has been gazing into her cup ever since.

Here in the rec room, where I’m writing and filing this post, I asked them to list their top three favorite things about our trip. No. 1 for both of them: The caterpillars, of course.

While my kids certainly appreciated all the big stuff they saw on our Yosemite trip this year, they LOVED these little things, and saw the bugs as a way to connect with Yosemite on their own terms, their own level.

I’ll be honest: Going into this multigenerational adventure, the caterpillars aren’t exactly what I hoped my kids would take from this trip. But now, after 48 hours of Caterpillalooza, I think I’m OK with the girls’ newfound obsession; the fact that they’ve taken interest in any part of the trip whatsoever is a win—for all of us.

If nothing else, this experience is a reminder that sometimes, the littlest things on a family trip can make the biggest impressions and differences in our kids’ lives.

We’ve all heard that age-old saying that implores us not to lose the forest through the trees. In this case—not losing the caterpillars through the trees, forest, rock formations and waterfalls—the lesson is even simpler and more poignant. I plan to savor it while I can.

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