As large as alone.

Mountains are giant, restful, absorbent. You can heave your spirit into a mountain, and the mountain will keep it, folded, and not throw it back as creeks will. The creeks are all the world with all its stimulus and beauty; I live there. But the mountains are home.

– Annie Dillard

Moro Rock in Sequoia National Park – web photo

A granite dome was the focus of my mother’s most memorable hiking experience. She told me many times the story of how, at the urging of my father, she climbed Moro Rock when she was great with child (me). That is, so far, my only experience of it.

On our yearly camping trips decades later, my own children’s father would hike to the summits of other domes of rock with them, and a few of those times I was along. Lembert Dome was long my favorite, looming over Tuolumne Meadows on the Tioga Pass, in Yosemite National Park. Even at three years old Pippin could get to the top of it, with someone to hold her hand on the gradual ascent up the back slope.

Lembert Dome in Yosemite – web photo

In the latter half of my life, my favorite dome is the one behind our mountain cabin. Several features of it make it accessible to me, the most important one being that I can walk to its base in a few minutes. I read recently that one summer, a small group of us climbed to the summit of this dome in the morning and again in the evening of the same day. My late husband took the picture below of our companions coming up behind him, about eight years ago. You can see why I wouldn’t want to try it alone.

During my recent mountain retreat, I set out one morning before breakfast, thinking that I would just walk over that way to get a view of the lake from the other side of what we have nicknamed Gumdrop Dome. Within ten minutes I had changed course and decided to approach from a different direction and to do a new thing: walk all the way around the base. I came through the trees to the north side, and headed to my right, around the west side of the rock. That side is a steep wall, decorated by veins of different colored minerals, and by lichens.

I refreshed my memory just now about different types of clast, or broken rock. I think what lies there at the bottom of the wall would not be classified talus or scree, but is just plain clast. On this side you can clearly make out where the base of the dome is.

I walked along in the clast, it moved under me, and then — whoopsie! Down I went on my behind. While I sat, I thought I should take advantage of the camera angle:

It wasn’t the only time I fell. A few minutes later I stumbled forward, and scraped my hand on some of that sharp granite. My euphoria was untouched; it was such incredible good fortune, that I should find myself completely alone, yet in rich company: God, and a friendly monster of a rock. Still, I navigated more carefully after that. The boulder to the right of the pine cones in the picture below is an example of the coarsest grit of granite imaginable; and the one below it, also.

I began to search for stones, keepsakes of my solitary walk around “Gumdrop.”

On the back side, the line between dome and not-dome is vague, as that granite face stretches away in an ever flattening  grade, down into the trees. There is still lots of rock there, but giant conifers grow out of cracks in it, and their duff lies thickly on top. Granite domes like this are called bornhardts; there are several theories about how they form.

For a long time I gazed at the wide views from my high perch, a flattish boulder-bench, and felt the cool breeze growing warmer as the sun rose to my left.

“O, Lord, how manifold are Thy works! In wisdom hast Thou made them all.”

From here you can see other domes in the distance, but of course you can’t get a good idea of what the dome you are standing on looks like. The best vantage point I’ve ever had is from the lake, as in this picture that was taken some years ago:

This area below I call the amphitheater. It’s a good place from which to watch the show!

If I had brought a snack, I might have stayed hours longer. It was all delicious and satisfying as a feast for the soul, but pure bliss was not going to prevent me getting shaky (elevation about 8500′) if I kept putting off nourishment such as was waiting for me back at the cabin; so I stood up and continued my explorations.

Frosted Buckwheat

This couplet below does not at all fit with the stones that I collected on the dome, as far as their smoothness, or the number of them. But the poet’s metaphor echoes somehow that of Annie Dillard at the top of this post, and they both understand what I left behind on that mountain dome, and what I brought home.

“may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.”
-E.E. Cummings

Here is my last look at Gumdrop, when I had circled around to my starting place. From this angle it seems that it might not be impossible to climb that particular slope. I wonder…. Well, next time I have a companion, I’ll have to bring him or her to this place and give it a try! But for now, Good-bye Gumdrop! Good-bye mountains! Thank you for inviting me. I had a good time!

12 thoughts on “As large as alone.

  1. Oh Gumdrop…what a great idea to circumvent what you were wise not to climb alone. Your photos are beautiful…but then it is hard there to not take one beauty after another…still your eye is kin to the place and tender in special ways.


  2. Beautiful! what a lovely excursion! I have recently re-read The Princess and Curdie, and was reminded of his extended meditation on mountains at the very beginning of the story. Very poetic prose – just sharing a bit because your mountain domes and McDonald’s mountains seem so different from the older, soft, green, rounded Appalachians where I live:
    “from the heat, from the endless tumult of boiling unrest—up, with a sudden heavenward shoot, into the wind, and the cold, and the starshine, and a cloak of snow that lies like ermine above the blue-green mail of the glaciers; and the great sun, their grandfather, up there in the sky; and their little old cold aunt, the moon, that comes wandering about the house at night; and everlasting stillness, except for the wind that turns the rocks and caverns into a roaring organ for the young archangels that are studying how to let out the pent-up praises of their hearts, and the molten music of the streams, rushing ever from the bosoms of the glaciers fresh born.”

    MacDonald, George. The Princess and Curdie . Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.


  3. Glory! 🙋‍♀️ What beauty! I love how that one tree looks like it’s having a rest on the rock under it. When I saw the pic with the pine cones, I could smell a pine forest. Isn’t that amazing? That sure is a beautiful place. I can see why you’re drawn there regularly. You can hear God there.


  4. Mountains and rocks are inspiring and beautiful. The quote from Psalm 104 is most apt. I chuckled when I read that when you fell you took advantage of your position to take another picture.
    How trees manage to grow in such places always amazes me. Thanks for sharing your hike.


  5. I absolutely love this post! Tuolumne Meadows is one of my favorite places I have been, but I love all of Yosemite, as I think I have mentioned to you before. Thank you for sharing this beauty and your amazing experiences in it. I will look at this post again, I am sure. 🙂


    1. “My dome” and cabin aren’t in Yosemite, and the scenery is not quite as spectacular. I added the top two (internet) pictures to illustrate my history with domes, but I think it was confusing to include them and their locations, which were the only locations I did include.


  6. Ah,Joanna!! Since I’ve been alone now for 19 months and taken up hiking, my heart is with you as you navigate GUMDROP!

    I’ve had the wonder of bright blue skies, riparian forest, mountain lake and islands to explore! God knows I’d love to be your hiking partner… though restrictions are now prohibiting my even crossing the border!

    I have refused to be vaccinated because I feel that my own very own immune system should be able to fight a virus. If I’m wrong then I may beat everyone to heaven.. which HE alone is in charge of!!

    Hiking is basically free and since I got my little car, easy to reach in a pretty wide area. I still walk a good deal.. Walking is so healing!

    I’m reading a new book out called THE HEARTBEAT OF TREES by Peter Wohlleben. You must check it out.. it’s a new book and I got it from the library. I’m pretty sure you’ll like it.

    Here’s to Fall hiking!!



  7. Oh, how I love both the cummings and the Dillard quotes since we’ve recently been to the mountains, as well. I came home with a small collection of various rocks, too, from river beds, from scree, and other places. I’m glad you weren’t hurt when you fell on your solo hike.


  8. What a lovely collection of rocks from your day! You fell. We all fall doing things like this, I’m so glad you shared that, it’s life.


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