I’ve been thinking a lot about Yosemite these last few months, living in quarantine and longing for the outdoors again, for wide open spaces.
In a lot of ways, my love for the National Parks began here, at least in the sense that I was suddenly aware of it, where I fully realized my devotion to the Parks and recognized them as a valuable and critical American Institution.
While my connection to these places mostly began at Sequoia and Kings Canyon–which I’d visited in the days leading up to Yosemite–when I reached Glacier Point that afternoon and stood at the overlook, and I took in that sweeping panorama of the valley, of Half Dome, the Merced River, El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, and Vernal and Nevada Falls; at that moment my love for the parks was ultimately affirmed. I’d never seen anything so spectacular in my life.
What’s uniquely striking is the silence, maybe because a sight like Yosemite Valley might lead one to imagine an accompanying sound of equal magnificence, some choir of angelic voices or maybe the low, grumbling of the earth churning from the infernal depths between here and the planet’s core. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, maybe? Something, anything befitting a sight so wondrous.
And yet the only sound was silence save for the whispering echo of a waterfall. As I looked out, I saw a blackbird soaring through the air, and I remember how for a few seconds at least, it seemed to be the loudest note anywhere around me, a reminder of how silence can allow for other smaller details to sing.
I remember Half Dome most of all, standing there like some benevolent king overlooking the valley and seeing far past the horizon.
I have a tendency to think this way, to look at a natural landscape or a particular landmark and project an emotion onto it, or more specifically an archetype. It’s a creative impulse that might raise a few eyebrows here and there, but it’s an impulse I don’t resist.
I saw Half-Dome as an emissary having kept its vigil for eons, since the earth’s beginnings. Might it be in tune with something more all-encompassing than we could fully understand in a single lifetime? Or better yet, was it merely one of many reminders across the globe that we too have access to the deeper currents and vibrations guiding all of life on earth? All we have to do is get out of our own way.
It’s incredible to think to myself, even as I write this morning, how a mass of rock can inspire that sort of contemplation. That it can steady me through times of great sorrow and uncertainty, if I just remember it. I don’t even need to be there and look at it. Just knowing that it’s there anchors me. What a gift that is.
Nevertheless, I’m thankful I got to see it that day, and I am most definitely looking forward to getting back and experiencing Yosemite once again, discovering new corners of the park I haven’t seen before.
That afternoon, I thought about all the generations of people who had come here before me and marveled at the same sight. Had they experienced the same thoughts and feelings as I did? I was sure there were many. I felt tied to all those people, and proud to carry on what I suspected was a long human tradition.
As I finally turned around and began my descent down into the valley, I kept that sight with me, one that has been with me ever since, smiling to myself and maybe just half-aware of the fact that my life would never be the same again.