I Heart America: Yosemite Edition

Hi friends,

I’m sorry, did something happen in the newspapers today? I didn’t notice. I was too busy thinking about my recent trip to Yosemite.

Was that too internet-deadpan for you?

Try this (I hiked there this weekend, instead of blogging):

Remember how I said I’d refrain from writing EVEN ABOUT DEMOCRACY till the health care decision rained down from the high courts?

Well, baby, let it rain.

I’m talking about the spirit of democracy. It’s not in our political process, lord knows. But it is in Yosemite.

One of the things that’s great about having been an academic is that I can do something like a family hike at Yosemite and think about all the theories that might, for someone else, spoil the trip. But for me, it makes the trip nicer. Which is prolly why I bothered getting a Ph.D. in the first place. I read the last pages of novels first. I theorize and rip things to pieces. And I like it that way. Even on a hike in one of our most treasured national parks. What am I gonna do? Look at the ragged, majestic beauty? Hah.

For example: I saw the spirit of our country on the Yosemite shuttle bus. It’s not quite the Supermarket in California, and I’m no Ginsberg. But it was California. And I did sense Walt Whitman.

Masses of people. Families. Children. Tourists. Many languages. Looking up, always looking up. Fancy hotels, bare campgrounds, motor lodges. Park the car and walk. Or take the shuttle.

Butterflies by the swimming pool.

Four flavors of ice cream.

And always looking up.

Did you keep your mouth closed when you looked up? Or did you have to let it drop to better see the granite sheers and crags?

I’m not bothered by hikes that are paved and crowded. People in headscarves, people in baseball hats. People with backpacks full of water. People with retractable walking sticks. People with children on their backs and shoulders. Looking up.

In grad school I learned about the constructedness of nature: We create a place where we feel we can get away from the press of humanity and its built-ness. A fantasy of isolation, of wilderness, of an authentic Nature that restores our American souls.

But we create these spaces. And we vigilantly police them. And we pave them, sometimes, so that the hiking paths are strong enough to withstand all of America visiting Yosemite’s Vernal Falls in June. To see for themselves, the way everyone else is seeing for her and himself.

If I had the chutzpah (and equipment) to do real backcountry camping in Yosemite, to get away from the power lines and the glottal languages and the snack shacks, I’d still be in a space designated and maintained by our government to preserve the ways that America looked before we got here and parked all over it. I’d still be there because of something about non-nature, pushing me to escape the straight lines and chemicals and sewers. And pretend that Yosemite’s backcountry isn’t built, itself, of all our fantasies of pure nature and real America.

I love it. I wanna go back.

Also, health care.

Tagged , , , ,

4 thoughts on “I Heart America: Yosemite Edition

  1. Inder says:

    My boss Greg climbed Mt. Whitney on Friday! Fourteen and a half thousand feet, people! I’m not sure what this says about democracy, but there sure isn’t much air up there! Being city attorney types, the question of who is city for attorney for the cities of Lone Pine and Bishop (and what a sweet gig that would be) did come up in post climbing conversation.

    So, on the topic of Yosemite, if you haven’t read the book Cadillac Desert, by Marc Reisner, I really, really recommend it (it’s a page-turning piece of nonfiction about water politics in the Western US). In it, he recounts an anecdote from William Mulholland (of Los Angeles water-grabbing fame). He visited Yosemite and was very moved. So moved that he said if he were in charge, he would send photographers into the valley to shoot pictures day and night for an entire year. He would publish the photos in books and send them to every library in the world. Then, Mulholland said, “I would build a great dam and stop all the goddamn waste.” (Found this recounted here and quoted liberally – http://www.metroactive.com/papers/metro/06.19.97/tv-9725.html.)

    So it really depends on WHOSE fantasy we’re talking about, right?

    • Elizabeth says:

      That’s hilarious.

      Before Mulholland said that, though, the SF mayor dammed up the Hetch Hetchy Valley. It was pretty much the same as the Yosemite Valley, and John Muir and the Sierra Club tried to fight it. I guess the 1906 earthquake made everyone worried about a stable water supply. http://www.sierraclub.org/ca/hetchhetchy/timeline.asp

      That book is absolutely on my list. Thanks!

      • Inder says:

        Yep, that’s discussed in detail as well, of course. I drink that ill-gotten water (and water my garden with it) every day. It’s delicious, the best tasting tap water I’ve ever had! And my water bills are very low. The government subsidies on that one go WAY back.

      • Elizabeth says:


I'd love to hear what you think!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: