Wednesday, March 9, 2011


I do not make the transition between seasons easily. I get comfortable with the season I’m in, having rediscovered its unique beauty, and I don’t want to let it go. The last couple of weeks we’ve had brief snowstorms that changed the woods behind my house from brown to a white wonderland in a matter of hours. Yet the warmer days tell me that we’re on the boundary with spring, and I begin to miss the snow.

I remember one winter day in Yosemite:

I am hiking the Yosemite Falls Trail up the canyon wall. A scattering of snow has fallen to the 6000-foot level and it gets deeper the higher I go, feeling like the French Voyageurs battling harsh weather on Lake Superior. I think of when I canoed in the Boundary Waters above northern Minnesota, and I think of Sigurd Olson canoeing there, listen to the voices of nature.

Near the top, the trail is covered in ice and I have to dig my feet into the snow on the sides and waddle the last hundred yards. On top, the snow is deep and unbroken. Apparently no one else was curious or foolish enough to hike up. At 8,000 feet, everything is hushed. Whatever sounds arise are quickly muffled by the foot of snow.

My plan is to find out which trail is open--the one heading west for the top of El Capitan or the one going east to North Dome, but neither trail is anywhere to be seen. I also realize that if there is ice and deep snow here, then it’s likely that the same conditions exist over the length of both trails. I head off anyway thinking that if I can find something of one of the trails, I’ll be okay. But after ten minutes of tromping and struggling through snow that is now above my knees, I find no evidence of any trail and stop, unwilling to continue when conditions are so risky. The trails run along the rim of the valley wall and any slip could be fatal. Carefully I make my way over to the lip of Yosemite Falls and watch it flow over the edge and pour down into the valley. I also gaze at the distance, over the stark, slate-gray mountains of the Sierra Nevada, entranced by the rawness of the view.

Quietly it begins to snow and covers the tops of Half Dome, Glacier Point, and hundreds of mountain peaks that stretch to the horizon. What I’m seeing is the boundary that exists between my city life and the wilderness world, a world that exists on its own and follows its own rules. I come here for a week at a time to glimpse its otherness and to feel part of something greater than my life. Yet this view scares as much as inspires me. It’s another boundary that I face.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Getting to Know the Details

Life is in the details. The excitement. The variety. It’s what makes us different from each other. This is an outdoor photo. What do you see?

Nature is not a backdrop that exists for our activities. The woods are not just trees growing out of the ground. We are only able to see the woods in detail when we get out of our car and take the time to hike through them. Then we feel the presence of a different place.

The intricacies of nature can leave us in awe, if we pay attention when we are outdoors, and if we bend down and get close. Look at the details. Listen to the sounds. Sniff the breeze to see what you can pick up -- rich aroma of earth? dry leaves? wet bark? pine needles? sage?

More important than what is in the photo, is how you feel looking at its details. What thoughts came to mind? It’s a close-up of snow, taken from three inches away. Sunlight is hitting it at an angle that creates shadows in the foreground. I would not have noticed the textures or the shades of colors if I hadn’t kneeled down.