Tag Archives: Yosemite

A dome without deciding.

When we departed Mammoth Lakes on our last morning together, my family kept going north toward their home while I soon must cross the mountains westward. I was glad that while I was still on Highway 395 the road passed through forests of Ponderosa and Jeffrey Pine with sagebrush underneath. That is one of my favorite sights, the huge trees somehow adding a depth to the quiet, and standing in relief to the dry and scrubby desert. I also took extra time to drive off of the highway on a dirt road, trying to get closer to the mountain pictured above. I still needed to zoom in to see the beautiful geology streaked with snow.

That snowstorm our first morning had been a blessing in two ways. It cleared the air of the smoke that had masked the mountains when we approached the evening of our arrival back in California; and it added contrast to all the colors, highlighting the lines and textures of the rocks.

The decision about which mountain pass I would use that morning had remained a point of discussion for most of the trip. Google maps wanted me to go via Hwy 50 by Lake Tahoe; I suppose the program chose what would normally be the fastest route. But as a result of wildfire damage in that area the highway had been closed, and while the date of its reopening remained unknown, I leaned toward one of the other passes to the south, either Sonora or Tioga, and I booked a lodging in a little town that would be convenient either way. As the day drew near, Tioga Pass closed because of snow.

But it was opened again, and meanwhile it had become my first choice. The picture just above is from that road, Highway 120, which passes through Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park. I had finally decided on this road because of all the memories associated with it, especially Tuolumne Meadows, starting with the day when 50 years ago last month my husband and I became engaged to be married.

This picture is just a closer view of the one above; you can see the aspens turning….

I stopped many times at turnouts, to get a look at Wright’s Buckwheat and a surprising number of other botanical roadside attractions:

But soon enough, around noon, I arrived at Tuolumne Meadows, and thought I would at least investigate the trail that leads up the back of Lembert Dome, which I mentioned just last month in connection to another granite dome. All my memories of this hike were foggy, it had been so long ago that we accomplished it.

I was curious, and entered into the process of continuing on the trail without quite deciding to do it. If there ever was doubt about my being a process- and not a goal-oriented personality, it has vanished, as I observe my rambling and meandering behavior that has created some problems for me, in this era when I have no goal-oriented husband around to keep me in check.

If you like maps (and domes) you might be interested in this one. I parked my car near the bridge over the river, so my trek started lower left at the doubled purple line.

I began to walk around the northwest side. At first the way was fairly flat and easy…

…but it quickly steepened, and ascended through the forest, where patches of snow still lay on the path and I could occasionally see the dome through the trees. It was lonely and lovely. In the first hour I saw only one couple, and listened to the sort of quiet that is full of small bird songs, the wind murmuring through the pines, and chipmunks chirping.

Looking back the way I’d come:

I heard groaning as of a door swinging on its hinges, and looked up to see a slender tree trunk that had fallen into to the branches of a larger tree, and was sliding back and forth the slightest bit when the wind blew.

Tramp tramp tramp, swish swish crunch, tramp tramp splish splish…. My boots were adding the only not-quiet sound, as I pushed on through snow and mud and plain dry dirt. I was glad that I hadn’t come too early, or I might have lost the trail in the snow, but tread marks showed me the way. After nearly an hour I saw this sign:

Really?? Still that far to go…? I realized that I hadn’t looked at the map beforehand to see how many total miles I was in for — because “it was an easy hike a toddler could do,” after all. Well, I was not going to give up at that point! Then it was, I suppose, that I knew I had a goal.

That next  mile was pretty easy, and only took 40 minutes. When you get behind the dome and the trail bends around to the approach, soon you start to see blue between the trees and down to the ground, and you know that you are high.

The last part is very root-y and rocky… and then, the bare granite is in front of you…

Lembert Dome sits on the meadow, which is 8500 feet above sea level. In less than two miles of climbing you gain 900 feet to the top of the rock, so the trail would naturally have to be steep. The grade, the length, the time it took, the difficulty — none of it was as I remembered. Nor had I remembered how old Pippin was — she was three, not two years old — and now that I have been up there again I can hardly believe that she walked the whole way, but that is the story that we’ve all been telling, and it’s true that she was a child who climbed everything from the start.

Looking down to the bottom, from where I’d come:

It’s such a wide space, you want to walk all around, and talk to the other rare people one finds in such a spot. I met three pairs of folks: First, a couple who mentioned several times that they were both afraid of heights!  They stayed in the middle of the expanse, and we took each other’s pictures. If you squint you can see them on the left below, eating gluten-free peanut butter pretzels which they also shared with me.

I met two 20-something boys, one of whom was ultra friendly and reminded me of the Jesus People of my own youth; I kept expecting him to ask if I knew Jesus. I liked him a lot, even though he asked my name as soon as I said “Hi.” I guess it’s okay to be forward with a grandma. And there was a father with his teenage son; we also took each other’s pictures, and told stories about Yosemite.

It was odd not to be talking about the names of the peaks. I don’t remember any of them, though their locations and the hikes linking one to another have been a realm of study and exploration for many people in my family, including my father and my husband.

In the picture above, we are looking around the west side of the dome to see Tuolumne Meadows as a tan strip in the distance, approximately in the middle of the frame. And below, Tioga Road is snaking through the forest. It’s a big expanse, but it is not exactly flat anywhere, so just standing around you have to brace yourself more or less.

I was up there more than an hour, but the time flew. I did not go around the side of the “knob,” as I call it, to the front of the dome, but I did feel confident to walk up on the broad and slanted slope just below. If I had not been alone I would have explored that last little area; when I told my fellow dome acquaintances why I was not going “all the way,” several of them offered to have me go with them. I was warmed by the camaraderie they were feeling, but was not at their level. I was content with my own solo feat.

And I had many miles to drive that afternoon, before I would get to my Airbnb home in the foothills down below, so I did not even sit down for a minute. I had a goal of getting to my resting place before dark, and it would take at least an hour to get back to my car. But I stopped on the way to chase after a tree frog for a snapshot. I think he was cold, and wanted nothing more than to sit in that patch of sunshine.

I also was looking forward to resting my aching body, and hoped there would be a tub in which I could soak, where I was headed. But it was extremely uncomfortable, psychologically, to be so driven in my driving, to keep pushing on toward my goal, with only a fleeting glance as I passed swaths of wildflowers and compelling rock views.

I allowed myself a brief stop at Olmsted Point, which was always a favorite place when we had children with us, and we would walk among the slabs and boulders of granite that we loved to explore. That spot might be more fun than a dome, because you can be freer to run and play. People who like can gaze up at the peaks and name them one by one.

I didn’t make it to my Airbnb before dark, but it was all okay. There was a tub to soak in, and a good bed, and my pictures to start sorting through. My last day’s drive was short and to the point, and I came home surprisingly energized and rejuvenated, having received in eleven days a thousand gifts.

This completes my October road trip story.

The day long, and a holy rest.

O Lord, support us all the day long, until the shadows lengthen,
and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed,
and the fever of life is over, and our work is done.
Then in thy mercy, grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest,
and peace at the last.

-John Henry Newman 

Pippin photo












I ask this much.

IMG_5657crp Tenaya

When I think of the possibility that I might go on living on the earth another two or three decades without my husband, it seems preposterous, like a steep mountain I’ve been asked to climb after my feet have been amputated. How could Anyone ask me to do such a thing?

The truth is, He isn’t asking me to climb a mountain, and I am not so crippled. I have enough strength to do what the next hour and day demand, and that isn’t actually very much. A mountain may in fact be there in front of me, and the road does lead upward, but what peak I will eventually reach is certainly unknown and unimportant.

As long as I keep to my usual fashion of delighting in every flower and singing bird along the path, and while I enjoy the company of the Sweetest Companion on my walk, the time will continue to fly by and life will be good. Yes, I feel weak, and I am going at a snail’s pace. Sometimes I just sit down on a rock and bawl for a while, but I do get up and put one foot after the other again.

And every day, I feel a great Love surrounding me, like the pleasant air that holds me and gives me oxygen even while I am having those pity parties. Or like the sun whose heat is keeping me alive and giving me energy. This poem was the catalyst that brought all of these truths together for me.


O mighty, powerful, dark-dispelling sun,
Now thou art risen, and thy day begun.
How shrink the shrouding mists before thy face,
As up thou spring’st to thy diurnal race!
How darkness chases darkness to the west,
As shades of light on light rise radiant from thy crest!
For thee, great source of strength, emblem of might,
In hours of darkest gloom there is no night.
Thou shinest on though clouds hide thee from sight,
And through each break thou sendest down thy light.

O greater Maker of this Thy great sun,
Give me the strength this one day’s race to run,
Fill me with light, fill me with sun-like strength,
Fill me with joy to rob the day its length.
Light from within, light that will outward shine,
Strength to make strong some weaker heart than mine,
Joy to make glad each soul that feels its touch;
Great Father of the sun, I ask this much.

–James Weldon Johnson 1871-1938




(Both photos are from Yosemite – upper one is Tenaya Lake.)

Clouds rain and vanish.

GLP1120486 explosion crpWe got a little rain today, but it was pretty much over by early afternoon, and while driving home from an errand I was feasting on the fantastic cloud formations spread all over the sky.

It might have been nice to go to a hilltop to capture them with my camera, but what turned out to be good about staying on the flats, standing in the middle of the street or in the back yard, was that I didn’t have to take all the pictures at once. I shot a dozen, did some laundry and kitchen work, and then it occurred to me that the clouds would have changed, and I could get different views, so I went outdoors again (also noticing flowers).

GLP1120492Several times I did this and out of the batch I kept a few that are sort of interesting, but really, what is a cloud if you can only experience it out of time, flat and tepid and in the still air of another place not its own?

I took Annie Dillard’s For the Time Being off the shelf so I could look up all the sections labeled “CLOUDS” that are scattered throughout the book. The first one is this:

CLOUDS – We people possess records, like gravestones, of individual clouds and the dates on which they flourished.

In 1824, John ConGL P1120493 cotton & treesstable took his beloved and tubercular wife, Maria, to Brighton beach. They hoped the sea air would cure her. On June 12 he sketched, in oils, squally clouds over Brighton beach. The gray clouds lowered over the water in failing light. They swirled from a central black snarl.

In 1828, as Maria Constable lay dying in Putney, John Constable went to Brighton to gather some of their children. On May 22 he recorded one oblique bluish cloud riding high and messy over a wan sun. Two thin red clouds streaked below. Below the clouds he painted disconnected people splashed and dotted over an open, wide coast.

Maria Constable died that November. We still have these dated clouds.GLP1120480 freesias rain

I don’t think so. Maria and John were made in the image of God; they were from the beginning, and I believe they remain, more Real than clouds, the paintings of which are paltry substitutes for what the real things so briefly were.

On another page Dillard quotes John Muir, who while exploring the Sierra Nevada in California in 1869 wrote about several cloud formations he saw, and mused,

“What can poor morGL-P1120516tunnel & peakstals say about clouds?” While people describe them, they vanish. “Nevertheless, these fleeting sky mountains are as substantial and significant as the more lasting upheavals of granite beneath them. Both alike are built up and die, and in God’s calendar, difference of duration is nothing.”

The poor mortal John Muir certainly did say something about clouds when he made that striking comparison…and some things about God and the nature of earthly and heavenly materials — it’s too crazy much for me to think about at the moment.

But if you like to look at clouds such as Muir would have seen in Yosemite, you can do as I have and visit the Yosemite Conservancy page that features several webcams with frequent gorgeous cloud shows. The Park Service also has these cameras. It’s best to visit when you know a storm is brewing up there, not like today with its view (below) of drifty vapors.

GL turtleback webcam 2-28-15

I liked what my godmother said about clouds when I told her about my cloud pictures. She had just read a Lenten meditation by Elder Nektary of Optina, who was speaking of how on the Last Day we will be “carried on the clouds.” We read the same thing in the Bible in I Thessalonians 4:

…For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.

I will indeed comfort myself with this word from the Father, so that in the future the cloud shows I see will not only be thrilling but remind me that as fleeting as this life may be, at the GLP1120478 ranunculus rainResurrection of the Dead I will be transported splendidly to my permanent and eternal and most substantial home.

Flowers last a tiny bit longer than clouds (but not nearly as long as granite). This afternoon I “recorded” some of them as well, still sparkling with raindrops.

It turns out that Kim was spending her afternoon in a similar fashion but she was speedier than I at filing her records of blooms and clouds. I hope you all get to enjoy your own living, breathing shows of earth and sky whether or not you try to memorialize them.

GL P1120520 sky 2-28-15