Reflections from Yosemite

Reflections from Swinging Bridge ©Lynne Buchanan

As I was leaving Yosemite, I kept thinking I have to go back someday.  There is so much to explore and I feel that I just touched the surface, even though I spent four days in the park. Even 360 degree views like the one from the summit of the Sentinel below, do not capture the grandeur of it all.

View from the Sentinel ©Lynne Buchanan

I entered Yosemite via Tioga Pass, which fortunately was still open. Right away I saw beautiful backlit aspens that look so healthy and vibrant, followed by several jewel-like lakes and a lovely stream that I photographed.  Next, I arrived at Tuolume Meadows and took a walk with nice views of Lembert Dome.  The park looked so healthy and full of beauty.  I was filled with a sense of peace and equanimity.

Glowing Aspens ©Lynne Buchanan

Tuolumne Meadows with Lembert Dome ©Lynne Buchanan

Then I continued driving towards the central part of the park, as my destination was Curry Village.  When I got to the East Rim, my heart broke.  This is where the fires were.  As I neared the area, the aroma in the air grew stronger and stronger.  At first I thought it was the smell of pines that has always felt so comforting to me, but then I sensed it was too intense and somewhat rancid.  I got out of the car and realized it was the life being burned out of these trees I have such an affinity for.  I could still see smoldering in the distance.  Something kept making me get in and out of the car at various points along the road.  I felt I had to witness the devastation we are causing to the earth.  At one stop, I made the image below.  When I looked through the viewfinder, I knew I had framed a ghostly scene of a desolate forest beneath the setting sun.   The destruction and sense of abandonment was palpable.  Then I noticed the limbs of a tree in the background that formed a Y.  It was almost as if the forest was saying yes to life, even in the aftermath of the fire. 

Aftermath ©Lynne Buchanan

It dawned on me that the life force energy is more powerful than anything we can conceive of.  Though we try to destroy the planet on a daily basis and often ourselves by not respecting how we care for life, there is some power that keeps the spark of life alive.    Nature continually transforms and tries to find a way to regenerate even in the direst of situations, just as my mother’s brain rerouted itself after her stroke and created new neural pathways.  Destruction and rebirth are essential parts of the cycle of life. I noticed a very large, partially dead tree that still had green sprigs on top.  There is something so moving about pockets of life in the midst of destruction.  Seeing that tree gave me hope for the forests of Yosemite, for the planet we are polluting, and for the rivers we are raping and diverting from their natural flow.  It gave me hope for my own self too, as I enter and move through middle age.  There is something inside me that wants to keep generating new shoots even as I let go of what I once could do easily like running marathons.

My friend Tom Skeele, who accompanied me to Glacier and Yellowstone suggested I write a blog about partially dead trees during one of our conversations during which I had told him about my friend Sally’s tree that had almost been decimated by three hurricanes and still bore fruit.  Her amazing pear tree and the survivors and new growth following the forest fire in Yosemite inspire me to not give up, but it is more than that.  Partially dead trees are beautifully imperfect. Their scars give them character, and they are mirrors for my own acceptance of aging and decay.  When I see them, I know it my gut that everything is partially dead from the moment it comes into being.  Instead of running away in fear, the trees that were not annihilated by the flames stood tall and against all odds, kept searching for earth, water, air and sunlight, just as roots often break through rock and cement to do the same, and rivers break down walls of stone to follow their true path.   I can’t help cheering on these underdogs, like this beautiful tree with a giant scar and burn marks
The Stories Scars Tell ©Lynne Buchanan

When I come across trees growing right in the middle of boulders, their perseverance always astounds me.  I have to wonder if they didn't get the memo that soil is a better place to put down roots.

View from Yosemite Falls ©Lynne Buchanan

Even more astonishing is the power of water, a substance that is soft and pliable, to slice through rock.  The persistence of following the same path day in and day out can cause rock faces to crumble and cave in on themselves.  Nothing is stronger or more obstinate than a river...

Nevada Falls ©Lynne Buchanan

On my way back from Nevada Falls, I passed Vernall Falls for a second time and was fortunate enough to experience the rainbow within the falls.  It was a little piece of magic, like nature was saying "Look what I can still do..."
Vernall Falls with Rainbow ©Lynne Buchanan

And then there are the sequoias which keep enduring and enduring, even when they unnaturally morph together like the Faithful Couple below.  Their bark does not contain resin, so these trees rarely burn to their death no matter what heat is threatening the forest.  And even after they do die, their roots are so immune to destruction that they don't decay.  The roots below are centuries old.

Faithful Couple ©Lynne Buchanan

Magical Sequoia Roots ©Lynne Buchanan

For me, a large part of my cross-country journey has been to accept my partial deadness, to recognize that I do not have all the energy I used to have, and to figure out how to pace myself so that I can keep the embers of my passion for life alive.  I am also learning how to connect with others through my vulnerability, my wrinkles, scars and other perfect imperfections that for the first time in my life I no longer want to change through superficial cosmetic aides.   I have been looking in the mirror less often and no longer worry about what people think of me.  I am finally becoming comfortable in my own skin, holding the alive and dead parts of myself in my heart together as one and looking at each day in the rosiest light possible as I embrace just being with gratitude and acceptance.

Half Dome Seen Through the Rose-Colored Glasses of Dusk  ©Lynne Buchanan