!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: John Muir Festival VII: Yosemite

Sunday, June 28, 2009

John Muir Festival VII: Yosemite

"Down grade into the valley"
Illustration from John Muir's article,
"The Treasures of Yosemite" (1890)

(Sierra Club)

One shining morning, at the head of the Pacheco Pass, a landscape was displayed that after all my wanderings still appears as the most divinely beautiful and sublime I have ever beheld. There at my feet lay the great central plain of California, level as a lake thirty or forty miles wide, four hundred long, one rich furred bed of golden Compositae. And along the eastern shore of this lake of gold rose the mighty Sierra, miles in height, in massive, tranquil grandeur, so gloriously colored and so radiant that it seemed not clothed with light, but wholly composed of it, like the wall of some celestial city. Along the top, and extending a good way down, was a rich pearl-gray belt of snow; then a belt of blue and dark purple, marking the extension of the forests; and stretching along the base of the range a broad belt of rose-purple, where lay the miners' gold and the open foothill gardens--all the colors smoothly blending, making a wall of light clear as crystal and ineffably fine, yet firm as adamant. Then it seemed to me the Sierra should be called, not the Nevada or Snowy Range, but the Range of Light. And after ten years in the midst of it, rejoicing and wondering, seeing the glorious floods of light that fill it,--the sunbursts of morning among the mountain-peaks, the broad noonday radiance on the crystal rocks, the flush of the alpenglow, and the thousand dashing waterfalls with their marvelous abundance of irised spray,--it still seems to me a range of light. But no terrestrial beauty may endure forever. The glory of wildness has already departed from the great central plain. Its bloom is shed, and so in part is the bloom of the mountains. In Yosemite, even under the protection of the Government, all that is perishable is vanishing apace.

[. . .]

The most famous and accessible of these cañon valleys, and also the one that presents their most striking and sublime features on the grandest scale, is the Yosemite, situated on the upper waters of the Merced at an elevation of 4000 feet above the level of the sea. It is about seven miles long, half a mile to a mile wide, and nearly a mile deep, and is carved in the solid granite flank of the range. The walls of the valley are made up of rocks, mountains in size, partly separated from each other by side cañons and gorges; and they are so sheer in front, and so compactly and harmoniously built together on a level floor, that the place, comprehensively seen, looks like some immense hall or temple lighted from above. But no temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite. Every rock in its walls seems to glow with life. Some lean back in majestic repose; others, absolutely sheer or nearly so for thousands of feet, advance beyond their companions in thoughtful attitudes giving welcome to storms and calms alike, seemingly conscious, yet heedless of everything going on about them. Awful in stern, immovable majesty, how softly these mountain rocks are adorned and how fine and reassuring the company they keep--their feet set in groves and gay emerald meadows, their brows in the thin blue sky, a thousand flowers leaning confidingly against their adamantine bosses, bathed in floods of booming water, floods of light, while snow, clouds, winds, avalanches, shine and sing and wreathe about them as the years go by! Birds, bees, butterflies, and myriads of nameless wings stir the air into music and give glad animation. Down through the midst flows the crystal Merced--river of mercy--peacefully gliding, reflecting lilies and trees and the onlooking rocks, things frail and fleeting and types of endurance meeting here and blending in countless forms, as if into this one mountain mansion Nature had gathered her choicest treasures, whether great or small to draw her lovers into close and confiding communion with her.

[. . .]

Along the curves and zigzags of the road, all the way down to the bottom, the valley is in sight with ever-changing views, and the eye ranges far up over the green grovy floor between the mighty walls, bits of the river gleaming here and there, while as we draw nearer we begin to hear the song of the waters. Gazing at random, perhaps the first object to gain concentrated attention will be the Bridal Veil, a beautiful waterfall on our right. Its brow, where it first leaps free from the rock, is about nine hundred feet above us; and as it sways and sings in the wind, with gauzy, sun-sifted spray half falling, half floating, it seems infinitely gentle and fine; but the hymn it sings tells the solemn power that is hidden beneath the soft clothing it wears.

[. . .]

Owing to the westerly trend of the valley and its vast depth there is a great difference between the climates of the north and south sides--greater than between many countries far apart; for the south wall is in shadow during the winter months, while the north is bathed in sunshine every clear day. Thus there is mild spring weather on one side of the valley while winter rules the other. Far up the north-side cliffs many a nook may be found closely embraced by sun-beaten rock-bosses in which flowers bloom every month of the year. Even butterflies may be seen in these high winter gardens except when storms are falling and a few days after they have ceased. Near the head of the lower Yosemite Fall in January I found the ant lions lying in wait in their warm sand-cups, rock ferns being unrolled, club mosses covered with fresh growing points, the flowers of the laurel nearly open, and the honeysuckle rosetted with bright young leaves; every plant seemed to be thinking about summer and to be stirred with good vital sunshine. Even on the shadow side of the valley the frost is never very sharp. The lowest temperature I ever observed during four winters was +7°. The first twenty-four days of January had an average temperature at 9 A. M. of 32°, minimum 22°; at 3 P. M. the average was 40° 30', the minimum 32°.

[. . .]

Source: Sierra Club.


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