Monday, August 2, 2010
Perhaps I am a sensory learner. Sometimes I wonder if I have a touch of dyslexia, you know, being left handed and all. When I’m reading, my eyes move all over the page. I have learned to deal with it, mainly by marking up my books. I highlight, make notes. And when I listen to a lecture, I write furiously. It keeps me from running down mental rabbit trails, which is all too easy, too common.
In spite of this propensity for the random, I am quite capable of sitting over a good book for hours at a time, especially in the early morning hours (when schedules permit). And recently (maybe it’s the new whiz-bang technology of digital books), I’ve discovered a few new ones that have held me captive, the most recent breaking a thousand pages.
Because I am an aspiring writer, I justify (rationalize?) all that as grist for story material and honing of skills; sharpening the verbal blade. Perhaps I really am a writer – there’s an unmistakable fascination with the craft. I am hooked. My admiration for those who are capable of grabbing my attention and holding it has only deepened with age.
DiCaprio’s new movie, Inception, takes us on a wild cinematic ride. The whirlwind pace is right in there with the dream state during REM sleep. Here’s the basic premise: ideas are powerful. They have the potential to change a life; change the world for that matter. DiCaprio’s character, Dom Cobb (“the Extractor”), utilizes a new technology that enables him and his team to enter into the minds of their subject, and become active players in the dream-state drama. What if, the screenplay imagines, it were possible to influence others by dream invasion without their permission or their knowledge?
The obvious point is that we don’t really need the technology. Idea implant is nothing knew. We do it all the time – especially us writers who converse with readers at another time, in another place (as in right now). We are idea implanters.
But all that said, as much of a word-junky that I apparently am, I possess an alternate passion as well: sensory learning. There are no better teachers than John Muir and Ansel Adams. Their spirit comes to life every time I emerge from that long tunnel through solid granite on Highway 41, after winding out of the Fish Camp entrance at the South, through Wawona along the pine forest ridge. It is a riddle to me, how people can break into that panorama and simply drive by unaware of that classic, one-of-a-kind scenic turnout. What could be so all-fired important? What could possibly be more soul satisfying than that lookout point at the Yosemite Valley entrance? So I always stop.
It doesn’t matter what time of day or how many times you have parked your car there and walked up to the edge. It is magical. There are as many shades and nuances and subtleties as there are hours in a day, seasons in the year, weather conditions in the season. El Capitan stands tall as a sentry, the solid, massive monolith guarding the entrance. Bridalveil Falls shimmer. Sentinel Dome hovers high above. The flat, wide valley, meadows and tall trees, like a living floor, and the meandering Merced River all perform some kind of deception. It looks peaceful. The water’s awesome power is contained in the currents. The obelisk shaped Sentinel Rock, and just above Bridalveil, the Three Brothers, all upright, at attention. And off in the distance, Glacier Point. And the magnificent Half Dome, posing questions about time and eternity in all its stately wonder. All over the world, humankind has erected soaring structures, edifices for worship and wonder. But none match this valley.
So Carolyn and I sit and take it in. Soul food. The first time we came, upon our exit we turned back and over our shoulders whispered a promise, “We will be back” (just as John Muir predicted). And we have been back many times. We saw it when we were first married. We determined to show it to our children. They know the Valley. And beyond. Now they are making plans to show it to their children.
We get back in the car, and continue our journey. First down to Curry Village and the shuttle to Happy Isles. We disembark at the trailhead, and begin our ascent. At this stage in our life, with our limited time frame, Vernal Falls is enough. Up to the bridge and first look at the wide falls; water crashing over the granite boulders. And then up the mist trail like a scene from your child’s favorite storybook, the roar of the water and the rainbow glittering in the mist, up ever higher, along the ledge protected from the sheer drop hundreds of feet below by a steel rail, and finally the last flight of stone stairs over the top and the shot of adrenaline that only climbers who make it to the summit know.
We remember. We remember the kids and their fears and their bravado climbing the hazardous trail. We remember the awesome power of the clear mountain water shooting over the wide solid rock ledge in prodigious quantities. We remember the giddy laughter, and the photographs right there on the corner at the rail, just inches from outer space. We hug and wonder out loud where the time went.
The next day, we roll down the windows and take in the high country pine scent and plug the iPod into the sound system and listen to Avalon sing “I’ll Fly Away” (among others) and we stop by a meadow just between the entrance to Bridalveil Creek Campground and the trailhead for Ostrander Lake and marvel at the deep green and mossy Sequoias and high country wild flowers in yellow and white and royal magenta. In the cool mountain breeze, we sit on a fallen pine tree, protecting us from the wet soil. We decide to stay awhile.
And then Sentinel Dome, and the lone windswept pine at the top, visible from the highway, and our walk up there with the kids back when. And the stroll through the fissure field where cracks in the granite open up unseen, a drop of thousands of feet, and we recall our fears of misstep; how we held those young ones tight. And then around the corner high at Glacier Point where all of Yosemite opens up and you can almost reach out and touch Half Dome. There below are Nevada Falls and Vernal Falls and the mist trail and Little Yosemite Valley. And the Tuolumne granite fields and more unnamed domes along the skyline and forests and valleys yet unexplored. And on a day like today, a clear bright blue sky with unlimited visibility, it is, well, breathtaking.
I listen to strangers there with us as we stand and look. Invariably, a fellow sojourner will remark, “It doesn’t look real.” Or, “It looks like a photograph.”
I want to say, “You’ve been watching to many movies. Too much television. You need to get out more. This…,” I would point to the scene. “This is real.” But I don’t.
DiCaprio plays with our heads. “What is real?” he asks.
Avalon is playing, “How Great Thou Art.”
This is real. Yosemite. Sensory learning. Not a dream. It is real.
…We will be back.
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2010