A California Lad: Walking the Sierras

The Range of Light.

The whole range rotates through the sky as you walk.  The jagged tops tear through the clouds, pulling in the clear California sun in shafts and whirlpools.  If there are more beautiful places on earth, others can have them.  This is good enough for me.

On the west, tenuous highways carry crowds through the sequoia groves to the big waterfalls.  Yosemite.  Kings Canyon.  Sequoia.  The roads end where range after range of impassable, golden granite pile up ever higher towards the eastern crest.  This the walking country.

I have crossed the Range of Light, surely the brightest and best of all the Lord has built. And, rejoicing in its glory, I gladly, gratefully, hopefully pray I may see it again. – J.M.

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Mt. Ritter and Banner Peak, Ansel Adams Wilderness

Economy of Self.

Survival, in California, in the summer, is rarely a doubtful prospect.  But there is a certain economy to having everything that is needed and no more, and this state of being is a kind of enlightenment.  It’s not as if attachments are totally done away with, but we are free to act as if many of them are suspended for a time.  Down the mountain becomes a place to put this suspended world – none of its concerns, disputations, or gratifications are the least bit relevant in the mountains.  All that is needed is already provided, freeing the mind to enter explorative and creative modes.

Mobile phone signals still do not penetrate much of the eastern Sierra, but that might be changing.  Solar panels are now draped across the packs of fellow hikers.  Awkward anchors to the world below.

Of course, there are the traditional anchors – fellowship with other hikers, rangers who copy your schedule and monitor the trails.  Communication of plans and travel in pairs and groups.  Meaning that travel in the Range of Light offers only the illusion of solitude.  But, in that, the illusion is better than the real thing, anyway.

Paths are the habits of a landscape. They are acts of consensual making. It’s hard to create a footpath on your own. – Robert McFarlane (h/t: Ronan)

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The Minarets, Ansel Adams Wilderness

The Wild Temple.

Harold Bloom’s review of the The Band’s 1968 classic “The Weight” observes in that song that “No American ever really feels free unless he or she is alone…”  And that is something of the draw here.

The wilderness in older places is countryside.  Thousands of years of human cultivation have shaped the land into something domesticated and livable.  Alpine valleys, remote Japanese villages, Shropshire.  This place is not like those.  After a few decades of timber felling (including some mighty and ancient sequoias), mining and sheep grazing, the rentiers were kicked out.  It was to be a wild place for the occasional pleasure of city dwellers.

And so it is a delineated place, set apart.  Permits govern entry and exit.  Ideals exist for packing trash, making fires, setting camp in suitable places.  There is a tradition of behavior here that is learned by practice, and is entirely useless in the world down below.

The best views are earned through dusty miles of rocky travail, and there is no other way.  The golden bear sauntering through the meadow in the brilliant dawn only ever exists in the moment you see it.

So, in the end, there is something special in just the fact that rest of humanity has never before sauntered out of their SUVs to say “meh” to any of this.

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Getting the bug at a young age
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