Monday, June 16, 2008

Stark Yosemite: My Initial Thoughts

Note: "Orangekayak" is now named "PBR"

An early morning flight from Boston touched "Ratherbe" and I down in Oakland an hour ahead of "PBR"'s flight from Dallas. We were stuffed in the car and on our way by early afternoon with the hopes of getting at least a toprope in before the sun set that evening. But the road to Yosemite is slower than expected, and we were too tired to do much of anything except walk around Camp Curry to get our bearings. But that was OK, because that's not what was running through my mind when we entered The Valley.

I'm not easily impressed. In fact, I would say that I'm least likely to rah-rah anything without first giving a critical eye toward any enthusiasm I may exhibit. I've both been around acclaimed people who deserved not an ounce of respect, and dirty alleys steeped with so much character that it would be a shame if they were ever cleaned up for the masses to enjoy. False excitement is rampant in our society. We're told what we should be happy about, for, and with; it is so much so that we rarely have time to decide for ourselves what is really impressive and what is not. The view of Half Dome from the plane as we coast across the Sierras is fun to see, but it draws merely a smirk and smart-alec response from me about how, "that climber's harness isn't double-backed." I guess at this point I wasn't looking to be overwhelmed. Getting away was enough for me, and I'm not sure if I look back on that moment with sadness or not.

When we finally drive into The Valley for the first time, however, I'm blown away. The narrow valley is claustrophobic, and that's a good thing. The towering walls on either side aren't imposing the way I thought they would be. Instead they tend to curve at the bottom as if they are lifting me up into the streak of blue sky above. They look so... so... ... climbable. They're talking to me, and inspiring me to reach high and pull myself over the top in one full move as if I'm ascending to heaven on my own terms. I feel as if I'm being hugged by the soft side of nature's imposing features. "God I love this place." I've already made up my mind that I'm not going home. "I wonder if there's work here."

And then we pull into the parking lot for Curry Village. "PBR" welcomes us to the ground floor of Yosemite Valley as a stream of yellow-scarved Boy Scouts march past the car. We check in and weave through the mobs of families, hikers, climbers, and everyone else. "There's no work here," I mutter to myself. "There's so much demand that they can pick the low wage beggars right out from the dumpsters." I've found paradise and suddenly lost it in less than 30 minutes.

It may be sad for some to note that my disappointment in society wills me to get away as often as I can. I'm satisfied with myself and who I've become, and I am happy to forge ahead to see who I'll become in the future. But I feel as if I'm living poorly. I don't mean that I'm broke (though it certainly feels that way), and I don't mean that I am inefficient in my life (because surely I am not). But I do mean that I feel lectured to and driven like a herded sheep to place myself within the pen that society has supposedly built to make my life safer from the coyotes, wolves and other known threats. "If I just accept this," I think, "then I'll have my house and spare change for travel -" things that I dearly desire. Of course, I understand that if I don't accept it then I'm likely destined to live a life of thinking and retreating, which may be a wonder of life if I do end up in a position where I am able to forge ahead until my very end, despite the pleasure of uncertainty that stepping out of line brings. Is it possible to advance without accepting? Am I a fool for believe it is?

What does this have to do with Yosemite? The starkness of nature's beauty against commercialization seems to be both a retreat and acceptance at the same time. While our public institutions may seem to be sending biased messages at times, propaganda is not their job. Society put this tiny section of the world aside to allow those who need to escape a place to runaway to, albeit within the confines of the pen. No one is here to place me. Everyone is here to watch the cliffs dominate over the dry, green valley. God's nature may be feeding a conforming, creativeless fury, but yet I'm here and enjoying it much the same as everyone else is. The escape is no more daring for me as it is the guy standing me, and it is clear that acceptance of what is handed to me is never far away, either, because that guy is still waiting in line for the only pizza that can be bought for miles. And I'm OK with that. It's far enough on the fringe to forget, and not so far to have to worry. It's this last point that worries me the most. "Have I accepted what I've been told already?"

The most odd of all feelings is that I prefer the tourists over the climbers. Yes, I'd prefer to relax within a vast, empty world where I can sit back and not worry about performing up to expectations, which, I initially believe, is born by the tourists and spread by them on behalf of the conforming world. But they're just normal like me, and I'll take the normalcy over fused convention any day of the week. Let's not argue over this: there is certainly more pressure to conform here in Yosemite as a climber than there ever will be as a retiree with a pair if binoculars in hand. I've come to run away, and yet I've found a section of the sheep's pen that feels both isolated and safe all at the same time. Is this OK? I hope to find out.

I'll be posting a day-by-day account of this trip over the coming weeks. Please be patient and check back often. As always, photos will be provided at the bottom of the posts. However, there will be multiple posts for Yosemite and Lover's Leap each, but only one photo stream for each. I hope you enjoy reading this...

Pictures to come in the next post


Jeremiah said...

Whoa bud, that's a pretty sweet post. I'm super psyched to hear about the trip. I'm mildly inebriated and I think that it is my poverty that keeps me pushing forward. If you don't have any links to that normal social advancement (cars, houses, wives, children, etc.) you're free to pursue the more advanced things in life i.e. being a bum of some sort, climbing or otherwise. So Jimmy Dunn soloed routes that I led, and Stewart Green is hilarious as he bitches out competitors. Fun stuff, tomorrow I have a trip in gumby land (Red Rock Canyon Open Space). The next few weeks seem to be interesting in terms of where I'm living and what I'm doing, I'll let you know what happens.

GB said...

Poverty is what drives geniuses. You've never heard of the well-fed artist have you? It's always the starving artist who gets the sweetest dishes. From the sound of things, you're on your way to doing good things.

The one thing holding me back is my commitment to student loans. It drives me nuts that I let that limit me, but it is expensive. I've seriously thought about just selling my stuff and using that money to start me off as a writer (with other savings, of course), but it is such a scary decision that it almost seems rash as opposed to bold. I wish I had no debts.

Anyway, let me know how things progress. Again, depending on funds, I'm planning on meeting you out there this Sept.

SMS said...

I've never heard of a well-fed artist because the man who can sell what he loves to do is the best business man around.

GB said...

Interesting point: the artist loses his art upon success? It may be a valid, romantic definition, but I hope it's not true.

geneva said...

In terms of the expectations from climbers to perform I totally agree with you. When I was at Hueco Tanks it was my one week of vacation away from the Boston winter and away from the city but the people there were definitely expecting me to push myself everyday. Sometimes all I wanted to do was relax and enjoy nature. And that's what I did.

GB said...


So true. There are times when I want to push, and times when I want to get away. I find that the moments when I want to push are when I'm local and can't away. I guess it's a stress-reliever switch: go away and take it easy or stay at home and hammer the stress out.