I used the telephoto lens to zoom in on a rock that was hanging over the edge of a cliff near Half Dome. That rock is probably the size of a small house. Or maybe even a big house. That’s the thing… hello, thing… about Yosemite. Pictures do not capture the scale of what surrounds you.
Can you see the big rock in this photo, just to the right of the thin, lighter-colored tree. That rock is about 30-feet-tall. It weighs tons. This is the kind of thing that is constantly breaking off the cliffs and tumbling to the valley floor. It forms ramps up the sides of the bottoms of tall cliffs. It is called scree.
But photos of Yosemite are deceiving.
There is a good photo of a scree pile. In most places on earth, under normal-sizes cliffs, those rocks would mostly be pebbles and stones the size of ping pong balls and tennis balls and baseballs. Maybe there would be some basketball-sized ones mixed in. Maybe even some the size of household appliances. In Yosemite, they are boulders. They are huge. Those are big trees growing in the scree pile.
The thing about taking pictures of Yosemite is that the trees in the foreground always look as though they are very close to the cliffs looming behind them. This makes you think that the cliffs are just a few times taller than the trees. This is not the reality. Those trees growing at the top of that cliff are over 100-feet tall, at the very least. Now, factor in the scree pile at the base of the cliff, which covers perhaps a third of the height of the cliff. That small dome on top of that cliff is hundreds of feet in height. And the cliff it rests on top of dwarfs that.
But you can look at pictures or watch documentaries about Yosemite, and never feel the thrill of standing under these granite monoliths.
It is mind boggling. It is overwhelming.
You feel small, yet at the same time, you feel a keen sense of oneness with nature.
You feel the sense of time.
In fact, because the valley was carved by glaciers, you feel a sense of geological time.
You feel the incredible power of the forces that could carve a valley from raw granite.
You feel the power of water that carves the granite where the waterfalls fall, and the rain and wind that smoothed the granite faces over the millennia.
And water adds to the scree fall. Water freezing and melting in cracks, widening them until part of the cliff gives way. Water feeding the trees and plans growing on the cliffs, swelling the roots and deepening the cracks.
You are part of something that only became visible when the last ice age ended, and the ice sheet slipped away.
You become aware of the powers that thrust these massive walls of stone up, out of the earth, eons before the glaciers came.
And the trees, the plants, the deer and the bears, they are all descended from living things that first arrived after the glaciers retreated.
This is, in point of fact, a huge scar on the earth.
It is part of the cycles of life, of rebirth. It is still being made as we watch.
Some day in the far future, these granite walls will be leveled away by the wind and the rain, by earthquakes and storm. This might just be a flat plain, covered with who knows what kind of forests or desert.
Our job, as stewards of this planet, is to make sure that it remains, in some form, and doesn’t end up choked in smog, buried in garbage, or at the bottom of a polluted ocean.