This image is one of thousands from Yosemite National Park seen through the lens of Shawn Reeder over a 2-year period, which he has stitched together into a remarkable time-lapse video showcasing that iconic national park in a range of light:
Watching videos like this one, or even images similar to ones in the video, I am filled with a mixture of wonder and longing and regret. That last for the fact that I’ve been living within a couple of hours’ drive away from Yosemite, but haven’t managed to really see as much of the place as I would like to, as I really should. For we live close enough to Yosemite that on those rare winter/spring days when rain has washed out the valley’s dirty air and strung it up to dry in the clear morning light, I can even see the tops of the park’s mountains right from our campus.
We go there periodically, of course, Kaberi and I with our girls, and often with friends visiting from out of town, because one of the ways to sell Fresno to outsiders is to tell them how close we are to Yosemite (and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks too)! So we visit every once in a while, have even camped out for several days on end, loving every minute of every trip there, and always coming back wondering why we don’t go more often! After all, back in college where I was into rock climbing, I dreamt of climbing in Yosemite while poring over pictures of El Capitan and Half Dome in books borrowed from the American Center Library in Bombay. Yet, now that I live so near the place, rock climbing itself has receded into a distant memory! Alas and alack!
So why don’t we go there more often?
Oh, we have our excuses: the exigencies of life on the tenure track at a teaching heavy institution, with young children, children too young at first for serious outdoor outings, then too busy with school and extra-curricular activities to find the time for even day-trips, and also, sometimes, often, the financial constraints of a single-salaried professorial life. Our weekends never seem free enough when school is in session, and we’re always trying to travel to more distant places during breaks, when we are done recovering from the exhaustion of the school year. Because, there is always that other thing, you know, where we keep thinking we can always go to Yosemite/Sequioa/Kings Canyon because they are right here, so nearby that we can go anytime, and therefore of course we end up not going there much at all. Familiarity / proximity breeding not contempt but a certain taking-for-grantedness of the sort which makes us neglect our loved ones until sometimes it is too late, and we are left with nothing but regret at opportunities lost, moments never enjoyed because we were too busy chasing distant mirages to notice the beauty so close to hand.
But really, how well do these mundane earthly excuses hold up against the transcendental magnificence of the mountains and the trees and the stars and the skies so within our reach, almost outside our doorstep? Can we not cut down / skip out occasionally on the seemingly all-weekend-consuming treadmills of grocery shopping/cleaning house/chores/grading papers/writing exams for us academic grownups, and soccer/waterpolo/dance/music/orchestra for our kids? Even as we share the growing lament for childhoods lost and alienated from nature, the so-called Nature Deficit Disorder, amid the over-scheduling of our children’s lives, and the hours they must spend poring over screens (for schoolwork as much as for edutainment), it is hard to free ourselves from the anxieties of modern parenthood, of the dread over their futures if they don’t have so many lines of extra-curricular activities, and leadership, and initiative, and engagement outside the classroom, to fill their little CVs so they can hope to qualify for the college of our dreams! Oh fuss and bother! Will they be OK if they don’t do all these extra things and fill their weekends and every waking moment with different structured activities to round out their broad educations and nurture all their talents?
But, will they be OK if they miss out on building a connection with nature instead? Will it really do them much harm if they give the old football game or orchestra performance a miss to instead go scramble up a boulder or splash through a stream or hug a giant tree? I daresay they will likely be all the better for having the taken the time to commune with this magnificent nature right here at our doorstep. Just as much as they have been better for missing school for an entire semester this year to travel (during my sabbatical) to the magnificently ruggedly austere landscapes of Spiti in the trans-Himalaya, for instance, among other places in India. They loved being in Spiti so much, despite being outside cellphone and internet range, these kids of the iPad age, that they didn’t even notice or mind when we got stuck in them mountain villages for an extra 10 days when roads got blocked after some heavy rains downstream (I wrote about it here and at The Nature of Cities). They were loath to leave Spiti then, and are now torn about returning to Fresno, to their much-missed friends, and the normal routines of school life there after months of travel and living out of suitcases.
This video, and others from Yosemite, though, have me thinking, resolving, that it won’t do for us to keep ignoring those mountains when we get back. My mother used to sneak us out of school occasionally, ostensibly for “family functions”, but really because she wanted to take us to a matinee showing of the latest Bollywood flick. Seems to me it would be well worth remembering that tactic, to pull our girls out of some of their weekend structured activities, and take them to Yosemite, and Sequoia, and Kings Canyon, and places in between, so they can get to know these places intimately, and remember them, and cherish them, and make them their own. I have shown them the milky way high up in the Himalaya. I want them to know that it is well within their reach closer to their home too.
Join us if you can, if you need a reason to visit Fresno: we’re right at the doorstep to Yosemite! And for those of you who are unable to make the trip, I hope the above video gives you enough glimpses of beauty.
And if the night seems to get too dark, here are Yosemite’s night skies: