The first time I visited Yosemite I was 34 and had lived in California less than a year. My 24-year-old boyfriend got us a tent cabin for a few days. I wasn’t very outdoorsy, still not, but “camping” and riding horseback with him in the mountain wilderness felt pretty daring.
We aimed to hike Half Dome. He’d done it a couple of times already. Now, so many tourists want to hike Half Dome there’s a complicated permit and lottery process. Back then it was there for the climbing.
But once in the park, I knew I’d be too spent at the end of the preliminary 6-mile hike up to safely do the cables. Although I came close. I look at videos of hikers on the cables now and wonder, What was I thinking? That’s way too hard and dangerous! Something I couldn’t know in the days before YouTube.
Yosemite was the first national park in which I’d spent more than a few hours . Dwarfed by its sheer scale, I was in awe . The redwoods. The granite mountains. Huge. Gigantic. Its beauty resonated so deeply than I didn’t want to leave.
When you spend time in a place so far from everyday urban existence, it feels like stepping out of time into a completely different, more carefree world. A more basic world. Your perspective changes. Politics, problems, they don’t exist in nature. The world was simpler when I visited the first time, but still, I appreciated being away from it. I didn’t want to leave this beautiful sanctuary.
So when grief got the best of me this year, when my soul was shattered into a million pieces, when my mind spun out on loss, I knew I had to go to the one sacred place that could help me heal. Yosemite.
The massive granite walls surrounding Yosemite Valley felt protective, safe. They reached to heaven it, seemed, and all I wanted to do was look up.
Up at El Capitan, the imposing grandfather of the Sierra.
Up at Half Dome, my “almost-climbed” mountain.
Up at Yosemite Falls, watching (and hearing) cascades of water froth and fall to the rocks below.
Up to the heavens, the night sky dotted with so many bright stars.
The rocks—imposing cathedrals in stone—did their sacred work. That peace that surpasses all understanding came over me as I breathed in the clean air of this holy place. My soul washed clean and I felt some of the inner calm I’d sought since Riley’s death turned my world upside down. And again, after breathing the fresh mountain air, I didn’t want to leave.
Spirituality is inherent in nature and Yosemite is a transcendent place. I love Yellowstone for its peace and natural beauty but Yosemite seems a mystical and holy place. John Muir called it the beginning of creation, the sanctum sanctorum of the Sierra and the grandest of all the temples of nature he visited.
When I visited the first time, conservation wasn’t in question. It’s been part of Yosemite and our nation for almost 100 years. After Teddy Roosevelt camped at Yosemite with John Muir he called it the grandest day of his life.
“We have not begun this country for a day, it is to last throughout the ages, “ he said. The result of that camping trip was our national parks service and he became the conservationist President.
“We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.” – Theodore Roosevelt
There are so many ways we’ve failed to show our worthiness in the last year. Yosemite, like other beautiful parts of our land, is at risk as this horrible Administration undermines the protections put in place in the 20th century. It breaks my heart.
I’m reminded of TR’s warning that we must be vigilant and keep those forces at bay so that over-commercialization doesn’t ruin our beautiful land. I am more than concerned that there seems to be little vigilance and little pushback among our people.
Maybe because there’s so much to push back against.
Maybe, after a year of turning back progress, this is just one more thing that we’ve become immune to. But we can’t afford to do that, not if we want future generations to feel the healing power of these beautiful places in nature.
I came to Yosemite to try to heal my grief. Yosemite, as Muir wrote, is one of those places in nature where we may “heal and give strength to body and soul.”
There, I got in touch with the grander plan for life. I felt small, a part of something so much bigger. Once home, I felt more centered, my loss in a different perspective—as part of the inexorable force of nature in this life. Grief never heals, but mine changed, transmuted, softened through Yosemite’s sacred healing power. I saw my Riley for the gift he was and continues to be. He changed me, helped me grow. I’ll never forget him and his indomitable spirit. And the lesson his loss and this trip taught me: we are a small part of a greater plan and each in our way, a force of nature.
And I began to look at the fall calendar for a date to return to Yosemite …just for a few more days. Because, as John Muir once wrote: The mountains are calling and I must go.