Monday, October 31, 2011


… the mighty Sierra, miles in height, reposing like a smooth cumulous cloud in the sunny sky, and so gloriously coloured, and so luminous, it seemed to be not clothed with light, but wholly composed of it, like the wall of some celestial city.
- John Muir, The Mountains of California (1894)

Nowhere will you see the majestic operations of nature more clearly revealed beside the frailest, most gentle and peaceful things. Nearly all the park is a profound solitude. Yet it is full of charming company, full of God's thoughts, a place of peace and safety amid the most exalted grandeur and eager enthusiastic action, a new song, a place of beginnings abounding in first lessons on life, mountain-building, eternal, invincible, unbreakable order; with sermons in stones, storms, trees, flowers, and animals brimful of humanity.
- John Muir, Our National Parks (1901)

It has been said that “it is not easy to describe in words the precise impressions which great objects make upon us.” I cannot describe how completely I realized this truth. None but those who have visited this most wonderful valley can even imagine the feelings with which I looked upon the view that was there presented. The grandeur of the scene was but softened by the haze that hung over the valley – light as gossamer – and by the clouds which partly dimmed the higher cliffs and mountains. This obscurity of vision but increased the awe with which I beheld it, and as I looked, a peculiar exalted sensation seemed to fill my whole being, and I found my eyes in tears with emotion.
- Lafayette Bunnell, Discovery of the Yosemite and the Indian War of 1851 Which Led to That Event (1880)

It is beyond the power of language to describe the awe-inspiring majesty of the darkly-frowning and overhanging mountain walls of solid granite that here hem us in on every side, as though they would threaten us with instantaneous destruction, if not total annihilation, did we attempt for a moment to deny their power. If man ever feels his utter insignificance at any time, it is when looking upon such a scene of appalling grandeur as the one here presented.
- James M. Hutchings, Scenes of Wonder and Curiosity in California (1860)

I found it impossible to work here, or even, to talk fluently or forcibly on what I knew about the Yosemite. The theme mastered me. I noticed that there were few signing-birds about, and was told by an old guide that they, with most animals, were afraid of the valley. Poetic thoughts and gay fancies seem struck with a like fear. You are for a time mentally unnerved; but you feel that in your powerlessness, you are gaining power; in your silence, more abundant expression…

- Grace Greenwood, “Eight Days in the Yosemite” (1872)

Here was the one adequate symbol for all that California promised: beauty, grandeur, expansiveness, a sense of power, and a sense – this in the geological history – of titanic preparation for an assured and magnificent future. As scenery, as a physiography that was deeply symbolic, Yosemite offered Californians an objective correlative for their ideal sense of themselves: a people animated by heroic imperatives. Its configuration of mountain and valley was a grand paradigm of California’s geography as a whole. From the Valley floor, standing on the banks of the Merced River and looking up at the great cliffs, one was in full possession of limits, and yet these limits were of grandeur and an inaccessibility beyond even the suggestion of intimacy…

- Kevin Starr, Americans and the California Dream

1 comment:

  1. Pretty damn awesome, alright. Thanks, Joe.