The TG and I just came back from several days in Yosemite National Park, and I'm still buzzing about it. For a bookish person, I'm a big fan of Nature. Nothing major; no camping or anything. But we used to hike a lot when we lived back East, and climbed a few easy mountains in the Berkshires. Now in southern California, we enjoy an outdoor "natural" life, twelve months a year. We have a nice garden, I have my cactus, etc. But nothing prepared me for the absolute beauty and grandeur of Yosemite. It is Nature, perfected.
Being in Yosemite for a few days is an amazing experience: simple yet complex. It's simple in the sense that everything is impossibly beautiful: the magnificent, huge granite cliffs, the towering Sequoia and pine forests, the plush meadows, even the trickly Merced River that runs through the valley. You just can't believe what you're seeing.
But it's complex in the sense that experiencing Yosemite's beauty is multi-faceted event. To behold such natural magnificence is not just an aesthetic experience: it's a spiritual experience, too.
While we were in Yosemite, I read some of John Muir's writings. (I love to read books in the places they were written about. I've had great fun reading Cannery Row in Monterey, Down and Out in Paris in Paris, The Third Man in Vienna – while staying in the Sacher, where Rollo* Martins stayed – The Colossus of Maroussi in Crete, Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymous Bosch in Big Sur, Death Comes for the Archbishop in New Mexico. Joyce in Dublin. Yeats in Connaught. You get the idea.)
I had never read John Muir before. Of course, he is an esteemed presence in California. I often drive past John Muir High School in Pasadena – written in big letters on its tower -- when I'm on the way home from errands in Pasadena, only ten minutes away on the 210. I knew that he was responsible in some major way for the national parks system. I've given money to the Sierra Club, which Muir founded in 1892. But I'm woefully deficient in general in my nature reading, so it's not surprising that his work passed me by.
But reading Muir's writings about Yosemite -- while in Yosemite – turned out to be a real thrill. At night, I would read his heart-felt, lofty yet precise descriptions of the wonders I had seen just that day. His enthusiasm for nature and his ability to describe what he sees immediately captured me, as a reader and a writer; so that was fun. I got the Library of America's NATURE WRITINGS on my Kindle, which made the 928-page book both lighter and easy to read silently at night, flipping pages. Of course, the problem with the Kindle is that you can't easily browse through a book. You can't flip pages back and forth to scan a book. I love to scan books. I can absorb a lot, just scanning. With a Kindle, no scanning. Also, no good maps and illustrations. I bet there are good visuals in the actual hardcover book. Of course, the Kindle version was $17.90, while the hardcover lists at $35.00, though it's available for less than that.
Muir is both a delight and an inspiration to read. Born in Scotland in 1838, he emigrated with his family to the U.S. when he was eleven. To escape from his severe religious upbringing, Muir found freedom and fulfillment in the wilderness. There has never been a more eloquent (in that flowery, Victorian way) or impassioned advocate for the wonder and importance of nature than John Muir. Just listen:
"The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness."
"When one is alone at night in the depths of these woods, the stillness is at once awful and sublime. Every leaf seems to speak."
"Come to the woods, for here is rest. There is no repose like that of the green deep woods. Here grow the wallflower and the violet. The squirrel will come and sit upon your knee, the logcock will wake you in the morning. Sleep in forgetfulness of all ill. Of all the upness accessible to mortals, there is no upness comparable to the mountains."
"American forests! the glory of the world!"
"Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life."
"Going to the mountains is going home."
Great stuff, no?
Also being in Yosemite was a physical experience. The hiking every day – and we went on "easy" trails – was demanding. Of course, it was in the 90s, there was smoke in the Valley from the raging Lake County fire 70 miles away, and we were at almost 5000 feet above sea level.
The most amazing things to see – and we couldn't help stopping many times to view them – are, of course, the great granite cliffs that glaciers carved through the valley: El Capitan ... Half Dome ... Sentinel Rock ... Glacier Point. The things are so big that I actually had trouble comprehending how large they are. I had to come home and look up the numbers to discover that El Capitan is more than TWICE as tall as the Empire State Building.
At night we saw great stars – "the milk in the Milky Way" – before the smoke got too heavy. We even hiked on part of the 211-mile John Muir Trail. A very, very small part.
And, to be truthful, it wasn't just the nature of Yosemite that was fun. The TG and I also stayed at the Ahwahnee, Yosemite's famous hotel built in 1927. It took us a year to get reservations at the Ahwahnee: that's how long the wait is, how many people want to stay there. But it was worth it. The Ahwahnee itself is a work of art. It appears to be constructed of wood and stone, but it is really supported by steel and concrete. The furnishings are lovely: a mix of Native American and Middle Eastern design. The massive Great Lounge was used as the model for the room in the Stanley Kubrick/Stephen King movie, "The Shining." I'll probably write more about the hotel on Trip Advisor where I occasionally post.
Some of the best moments were spent just driving around the Valley with my top down at 20 miles an hour, drinking it all in.
My message is simple: go to the Yosemite Valley if you can. It's like nothing else you've ever seen.
Images of the Yosemite Valley --
a scene from "The Shining" -- actually, the Ahwahnee's Great Lounge is much nicer than the one in the movie
*And yes, the name of lead character in The Third Man as a story is 'Rollo.' They changed it to the slightly less ridiculous 'Holly" for the film.