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Sights of Beauty

Yosemite Tunnel

I sit down to write, bringing my present into my past, my future dreams and dreads, tagging along. I pass in vivid memory through a tiny village named El Portal, Spanish for “the gateway.” After El Portal, the rolling, tree-covered hills drastically give way to the dramatic, carved terrain of Yosemite Valley.  The valley, too, has gates.  The sight of them is joy inexpressible and full of glory.

On the south side, a waterfall called Bridalveil abruptly drops from a hanging valley. The lacey water from a distance appears to move in slow motion, but, as I remember, creates a rainstorm up close. On the north side, a stately granite monolith thrust up from thermal places confronts me. This sentinel is known as El Capitan, more than twice the height of the north and south towers of the World Trade Center, which was still under construction the first time I saw it in 1971, in those final years of optimism. 

I am summoned to this place where I stand in awe, a place that has dug a raw wound of aching joy in me for fifty years. It has drawn me like a magnet in pilgrimages of body and spirit. I look past the valley gates, and survey the continuous and distinct features in the varnished granite on both sides of the valley, each sculpture giving way to another, overwhelming my senses. Not only do these regal fortresses have glorious textures and shapes, but their crystal flakes also glisten with a silvery radiance in the brilliant sun.

At sunset, they simply glow a muted orange, then slowly fade into purple. This deep and wide valley was the result of ancient glaciers, slowly scraping the granite, and leaving in certain bands a smooth and glossy polish. I taste the dry air and inhale the fragrant Ponderosa Pines.  Close to losing self-awareness, I am pulled out of my anxieties, yet my blood pumps hard. I want to fall to my knees in wonder and worship. I want to sing.


Further into the valley and up my favorite trail, I see another waterfall called Nevada, Spanish for “snowy.” It looks like an avalanche as it tumbles over a shorn igneous wall, and crashes over heaps of broken boulders, then over the enchanted Vernal fall.  At last, it spills onto the valley floor with great violence and flows into the Merced (Mercy) River, which courses west out of the valley gates and through El Portal.

When first came here as a youth, I had just seen the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, but never had I seen such geological massiveness, etching, volume of vertical water, and eminence of light in one place. It was concentrated. If the Rockies were beer, Yosemite is Bourbon. I had a feeling that I was taken out of myself in an ecstatic sense. It was the first time I was overtaken with awe and wonder. I was seized with the rapture of Jacob in Genesis when he exclaimed, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” My soul passed through El Portal. Imagination on fire! Glory tasted!

I have just tried to describe what I saw. In my next post, I will attempt to relay what the sights did to me–the sensual experience of such beauty.

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