The principles of “leaving no trace” were our religion. We thought we were protecting a sacred place. But we were learning to swim when a tsunami hit.
Back then, I fell in love with the awesome beauty of Yosemite. But in those months of digging deep into its canyons and meadows along the veins of the hiking trails, what impressed me the most was its power, its invincibility. Those 3,000-foot cliff falls and tumultuous waters were beautiful, but they were also menacing. Yosemite’s power – and by extension, that of nature – seemed limitless.
The park’s magnificent pieces of granite have been there for ages. Part of the Sierra Nevada range that forms the backbone of eastern California, they were spiked into peaks millions of years ago. Later, a glacier carved out the valley in a U-shape. We humans, I was sure, couldn’t do anything there in comparison.
Today, almost 30 years later, in what may be the most profound shift of all, the power dynamics between humans and Yosemite have shifted. Seeing nature so vulnerable is not only depressing, but wrong, disorienting and frightening.
“It is reminiscent of that moment when an adult child begins to feel their parent not only as a caregiver, but as someone who begins to need care,” Alejandro Strong, an environmental philosopher who founded Apeiron Expeditions to guide people in nature trips. , told me after I got home.
We have spoken of the transcendentalists. “Emerson, Thoreau, Fuller – their tales of nature are that she’s perfect,” Dr. Strong said. “You would learn from this teacher without limits. Nature was pure truth. He offered access to infinity, a substitute for God. Yosemite on his knees shows how naive he was to think so.
We’ve always had it backwards. Nature has never been invincible – and we know that because we could have hurt her so much, says Dr Strong. Because we had a long period of stability until recently, we thought nature was all powerful, that it would be there forever. “We are shocked at this now,” he said.