Retro Post: 10 Years Ago Today, 14-Aug, Part 6

For the next few weeks, we’ll be observing an anniversary: 10 years since we left San Francisco and moved to Ann Arbor. I’ll repost articles Frank and I wrote at that time for our Ann Arbor blog, aSquared. Bittersweet, very definitely they will be, bittersweet.

[It’s aSquared’s First Birthday … we’re celebrating by looking back at events from a year ago … skip these retro posts if you’re not into sentimentality.]

‘Yosemite is grand, but go when the crowds aren’t there: fall and spring. Spring is best, because the waterfalls are full and gorgeous …

Yosemite National Park, CA

‘Population: a bunch of park rangers and a variable transient population of tourists. Area: 1200 square miles in Mariposa and Tuolumne Counties.

‘California Senator John Conness introduced a bill, which Abraham Lincoln signed into law in June 1864, setting aside Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias for the State of California as an inalienable public trust, although logging, mining, and grazing continued in the Valley until John Muir stepped into the picture. (Conness later died in an insane asylum, but that’s another story.) Here is what Muir, whose name adorns the high school I attended in Pasadena, had to say about Yosemite in 1911:

‘“Apart from the human interest of my visit to-day, I greatly enjoyed Yosemite, which I had visited only once before, having spent eight days last spring in rambling amid its rocks and waters. Wherever we go in the mountains, or indeed in any of God’s wild fields, we find more than we seek. Descending four thousand feet in a few hours, we enter a new world; climate, plants, sounds, inhabitants, and scenery all new or changed.”

‘The place is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places on God’s increasingly greenless earth, and I should have my California citizenship revoked for not having visited before now. But I hazard a guess that Muir would rip his heart out and wear sackcloth and ash if he were able to see what Yosemite has become: a Back to Nature theme park, a marketer’s gimmick, a mockery of God, a naturalist’s nightmare.

‘You pay $20 at a checkpoint and get handed a ticket and a map by a nice ranger. You drive down narrow, groaning, car-filled roads to get your look at the Valley’s main attractions: Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, Bridalveil Meadow. You get out of your car and walk with lines of tourists up paved trails to designated areas where you can pose for photos against backdrops and pretend that a thousand other people aren’t doing exactly the same thing. You can ignore, or get prissy and stop to pick up and get the back pocket of your jeans gummed up with the contents of, a littering Jolly Rancher wrapper some jerk has dropped along the path. You hear parents tell their kids things like: “We drove four hours to see this, so shut up!”

‘Yosemite is glorious and a testament to the universe’s abundance in spite of the desecrations wrought upon it by humankind (and maybe I should just shut up and let the photographs speak for themselves, and maybe I should just stop being critical every moment and enjoy the scenery). But it is also a perfect diorama of George W. Bush’s America: a Grizzly Adams version of the Great America Mall, complete with its own official concessioner website. It makes you wonder what the valley must have looked like in 1911, through the eyes of John Muir and his traveling party.

—Posted by Frank at 16:00:00 | 14-Aug-03’