Walking on the upper trail going through the talus by the Church Bowl one morning in October, trying to find Gold cup oaks, I begin to notice little things. Usually I'm busy looking up to see how the massive peaks and domes look from different places in the valley and at different times of the day. But today it’s the little things.
The sun is in exactly the right place to reveal a crevice in what I thought was a perfectly smooth dome. And I notice that even though the sun is shining brightly and there are no clouds, the valley seems to be partially lit, its luminosity cut back by twenty percent, and I wonder if this is similar to the unique lighting that draws painters to the south of France.
Coming down to the valley floor, I walk through the Church Bowl where worship services used to be held. There’s a stone pulpit to one side broad, an open area for the congregation to stand, and a few rows of leveled ground, perhaps for the choir. There’s also a memorial to the pastor who was here during World War Two when the valley was taken over by the military for R & R and the Ahwahnee Hotel was converted into a hospital.
It hasn’t rained much over the last two months and the valley has dried. I peek into a small hollow in the woods and find it surprisingly green and filled with water-dependent plants like horsetails and rushes.
Wanting to linger, I sit in the southwest corner of Ahwahnee Meadow. The only tree in the meadow is what I call "Mother's Tree" because she is surrounded by her offspring. I estimate there are sixty first-generation children and at least twenty second-generation grandchildren in a tight circle around her. It's hard to be accurate because she’s in the middle of a restored meadow, which means that I can’t walk over to her to count. The afternoon is warming nicely from the morning's lingering cold as I lazily watch the Royal Arches, Half Dome, and the meadow. The openness of the meadow provides a clear view of the splendor that is Half Dome, which is probably why a webcam has been set up here on the top of a wooden fence.
Above the Church Bowl, a number of climbers are making their way up the swirling rocks. About 250 feet to the left of the Royal Arches, a broad horizontal band of scratches goes across the rock. They’re on a bend in the canyon wall and I figure that they are either the result of a glacier sliding by scratching the wall or of geological layering. I walk over for a closer look but even when I’m looking up from directly below, I can't tell which it is. But standing here, I see about the scratches a ruler-straight fault line coming down from the front peak that is almost at perfect right angles to the fault line. How this was created befuddles me. It seems too straight to be natural, and almost everything around it is expressed in molten rock that cooled into rounded domes and curves. I'm simply at a right place to see the straight lines.