I Came to Yosemite Because I Had To

The following post is excerpted from a journal I wrote while on a trip to Yosemite in April of 2013. The photos were taken then as well. I hope the writing conveys the incredible beauty and power of the spot.

I came to Yosemite because I had to; I was dying inside—I needed to visit my mother, Sierra Madre.

She did not disappoint. I thanked God when I entered his country in the rolling cow pastures of Route 140 E leading to the mountains.

red-buds-by-river

At every turn, as we passed the cows and quaint, decaying barns, my spirit orgasmed anew at each unfolding landscape. The thrusting force of spirits too grand but to respect, striating a wall of multi-colored mosaic rectangles—often forming facades that look like elaborate entryways to posh buildings … And then as we fronted the river, I was awed over and over by the ebullient profusion of “Red Buds,” the deep magenta blossoms of the trees that I had never before observed in bloom. I breathed in deeply, trying to contain my bounding spirit within my body. This was BLISS.

All of this as an accompaniment to the white-capped, gray, and very swift Merced River, the breadth of its imminent stateliness unignorable …

bridalveil-falls-1

I love being up here. It’s away from everything. We discovered that our cell phones don’t even work here! After a great day in Yosemite Valley, we came back to our room in the late afternoon and tried the outdoor pool and Jacuzzi. The pool was COLD (as in unheated). I and a couple of kids 7 or under were the only ones who could stay in longer than 30 seconds (that was just about their limit). I did a good number of laps and then went into the burning hot spa. Then I went back into the pool to do more laps, and then back to the spa again. I wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to swim in the beautiful mountain air, with the sound of a very full Merced River roaring close at hand.

bridalveil-falls-2

After breakfast at the lodge, we left for the Valley at about 9:00 a.m. As the weather report had predicted, it started to rain a few, big drops at the lodge before we left for our day’s adventures. Approaching the park, I tried to limit my landscape-gawking and picture-taking stops to 2 or 3. Even in the rain, I stuck my Canon Power Shot out the window, braving the raindrops on the lens, to try and capture just a hint of the glory of the Merced coursing its thunderous yet graceful path, white-tipped, past rocks and boulders in the gorge below.

fallen-log-w-forest-backgrd

Every feature of the surrounding roadside gave me spiritual ecstasy. I would say that I was on overload, but that would describe a state of excess or toxicity; this was more like bliss—like being reunited with everything I love, like coming home to the warm, loving bosom of my Sierra Madre, whose love is rapture, and who opens the souls and spirit to join with her beauty. Who heals above every other healer; whose truth, just in its very existence, is proof of the Great Spirit.

We arrived at Bridal Veil Falls at about 9:30 a.m. There was only one other vehicle in the parking lot near the glorified outhouses: a red sports car. The gently, yet persistent rain pelted us tenderly with wet, clammy kisses. I couldn’t help taking compulsive film clips of the water tumbling down from its 300-foot summit. With every few feet closer I approached, I felt the roar more loudly, and saw the mist shooting up more clearly as it smashed against the rocks below and vaporized.

Never had I seen the falls like this. The spring snowmelt is the most turgid and elemental event in the mountains.

Beauty here—reminding me of a spiritual experience I had at Multnomah Falls in Oregon’s Columbia River Valley on a walkabout I had made in my early 30s. Captivating, gentle, cultivated; a home for wood-nymphs and Native American girls with long, braided tresses, singing in the burbles of the stream. I felt their presence, though their voices melded with the soothing shushing of the water.

moss-by-river

We felt enclosed in a green sanctuary, safe, and invited to experience the beingness of the spot. The spirit sees as it feels, and the mind stops for a moment, as it hears that which does not speak. Wooed by the essence of love, every little drop, leaf, and branch became an expression of divinity.

We were the only ones approaching the crashing water. Even the ethereal mist that evolved from the chute seemed to speed downhill, caught up in the general thrust of the ponderous column’s momentum. We got as close to the base of the fall as we could, sprayed with heavy, wild mist that pelted harder than the rain. Looking up, I could see the gray and white rock-face, scarred on two sides of the fall with features cut into its surface. I saw two eyes, equally spaced around the waterfall: the great spirit of the falls had a face! New respect for its power was instilled in my soul.

leaf-on-ground close-up-of-bark

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Sent to remind us …

Turquoise Dragonfly2

Some things can’t be

improved upon

… Like beauty,

or the graceful turquoise geometry

and gossamer irridescent wings

of a dragonfly,

emissary of the spirits

sent to remind us

that magic lives within

and amongst us

at every moment.

 

The Moon as Social Media

IMG_0761 - Version 2

Well, yes. It gets our attention (if we’re paying attention). It reaches everyone. When you look up, you’re seeing the same thing everyone else sees when they look up. A message only a couple of seconds old (how’s that for “real time”?). The moon is the most universal form of social media: current, universal, and free–as long as your connection isn’t obscured by fog or clouds. Tonight’s Super Harvest Blood Moon (a rare total eclipse happening at the same time as the moon’s perigee–or closest point to the earth in its orbit) is a sensational message.

 

 

 

Encounter with a Dead Sperm Whale

(Warning: The photos and descriptions in this post are graphic and may be disturbing. Be advised.)

I had to go see it. It was news. It had happened in one of my favorite hiking/walking spots. And I love whales, anyway. I had never been up close to a real whale before, except last summer when I went up to Newport, Oregon with my family and was lucky enough to be within 100 feet or so of a diving pod of gray whales. But then, all I got to see were a few brief glimpses of them surfacing and then diving again, their graceful flukes displayed for a second or so before re-submerging.

I heard about it from my daughter, whose high school science teacher had told her about it in class: a whale had washed up on Sharp Park Beach in Pacifica. Scientists from the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito and the California Academy of Sciences had come out to investigate, and to do a necropsy.

They found the whale on April 14, a Tuesday. The brief news blip said the whale was beached at Mori Point—the site of an old inn, turned speakeasy in the 30s, that had since burned down. I wasn’t able to go see it until Sunday, the 19th. I drove over as early in the morning as I could, arriving in the gray mist of 10 a.m. Mori Point is at the end of a several-hundred-foot stretch of beach and embankment running along Sharp Park Golf Course, accessed from a parking lot at the north end. I stepped onto the beach and looked toward the other end to see whether I could make out the whale. There were a handful of walkers in the crisp morning air, dressed in layers as they performed their habitual workout. I peered out toward the large black rock marking the end of the point, where a 200-foot bluff rises up from the beach. I could see no sign of the large black carcass that had bobbed around in the news footage. Maybe I’m too late, I thought; the scientists may have taken the whale back to their labs at the marine center for analysis. Or perhaps the crashing waves of the rising morning tide had already taken it back to sea. No matter. I needed a good walk in the fresh air, and this, after all, was one of my favorite walks. I stepped onto the gravel walking path that parallels the beach. About a quarter of the way down the path, I heard the wheels of a vehicle on the gravel behind me. I turned around to see a U.S. Park Ranger truck slowly making its way to the point. I wonder what business they have here, I thought, as the ranger slowly passed me. It gave me hope that maybe the whale was still there, and they were checking up on it in some way.

Whale against cliffDog & Whale blubber

[The whale described in the news blogs was a sperm whale—the species chosen as the object of Captain Ahab’s obsessive vendetta in Herman Melville’s classic Moby-Dick. As it turns out, sperm whales have never exhibited any hostility toward mankind, and were severely hunted for their spermaceti oil, considered the finest oil for ointments, creams, pomades, and candles. Interestingly, they were hunted almost as much in the period following World War II as they were in the 19th Century, during both periods of which their populations were cut to approximately 30%. They are now considered a vulnerable species, as their numbers are slowly recovering.]

As I approached the end of the beach, I looked down at the foot of the cliff. I could see what looked like a long, grayish-pinkish rock formation along its bottom. A woman and her dog were walking around it, seeming to linger as they looked at it. As I got closer, and the pair finally went on their way, I could see the formation more clearly. No, it wasn’t rocks; it had the vague shape of a whale or large fish. Was this it? As I stepped down a small path onto the beach and got nearer, I could see that it was indeed what remained of a once majestic sperm whale, caught between an outcropping of rocks and the bottom of the cliff wall. It was laid out with its head pointing to the water, the length of its right side fully visible to beach walkers. I could see the massive fluke semi-buried in the sand at the other end. While its shape was generally whale-like, its skin seemed to be entirely gone, exposing the pink and gray mass of its flesh and inner organs—the work of the scientists and their necropsy.

Whale headWhale Onlookers


But what was grotesquely evident, even before getting close to the whale’s cadaver, were the huge, yard-long, one-to-two-foot-thick chunks of flesh, unceremoniously flung and scattered along the beach. Crows and gulls lighted on them to peck at a bit of blubber. Dogs regarded them gingerly. Apparently, the men of science had no sense of neatness or propriety. The small, picturesque beach at Mori Point looked like a battle zone, bespeaking a crude disregard not only for the creature that had been so callously butchered, but also for the people who regularly use and enjoy the beach, now defiled with this carnage.

The small, picturesque beach at Mori Point looked like a battle zone, bespeaking a crude disregard not only for the creature that had been so callously butchered, but also for the people who regularly use and enjoy the beach.

Looking again at the whale, I could see that on the side exposed to the beach, about half of the flesh—not just skin but tissue as well— was ripped away from it, and the grayish-pinkish color was the exposed, raw insides. The entire side of the animal that I could see was decomposing, drooping dejectedly into the elements. The jawline, abutting in a characteristic cetacean point, was pinkish-red and grayish-white, the thin bottom jaw having been removed. It was almost surreal. Grayish shapes that looked like sandbags were stacked in the middle of the creature’s body. Could they have been put there to weigh the animal down so it wouldn’t float away while they were taking tissue samples? As I came closer, I saw them buoyed and rocked by the riplets of tide that began to wash in around the huge corpse: they were massive intestines, reticulated in smooth, grayish folds. The smell was there, but not overpowering in the cool air. I felt a great sadness at the death of this noble, intelligent, social animal, likely caused by human insensitivity. I remembered hearing that the sound waves emitted while searching for offshore oil deposits are devastating to whales’ navigational sonar, and increasingly cause whale beachings and deaths. In fact, in the latest issue of the UK magazine New Scientist, whales fatally beached by human-generated noise pollution have been discovered to have not just ear damage, but brain hemorrhages. How sad a commentary on human insensitivity and destructiveness.

When I looked at the side of the poor beast that faced the rocks, I saw that only half of the skin and flesh had been removed on that side. I was troubled to see a tag spray-painted the length of the remaining skin, from left flipper to tail: “East Bay Rats Motorcycle Club.” What glory could they hope to find in further desecrating this poor creature’s body?

I took a lot of pictures of the poor beast, out of curiosity, scientific enquiry, and a need to understand. The tide was beginning to come in almost immediately after I arrived, so I had to work quickly. I took videos and even photographed a man who wanted his portrait next to the whale. I was so engrossed in my task that a small wave that lapped ashore got my shoes and the bottom of my pant-legs wet, with blood-tinged water.

As I turned to go, I was again confronted by the rectangular cubes of whale flesh scattered across the beach.

Turning away from the whale’s body, I looked at a low cliff dropping down from the embankment. There was a makeshift crucifix there, seemingly a memorial to the whale. But upon closer inspection, it turned out to commemorate a dog. “Best dog in the world,” it said, “We love you.”

The death of a dog, I thought, gets more concern and compassion than the death of our mysterious, maligned, magnificent ocean cousin. And as far as defiling the whale’s body goes, or general insensitivity, I don’t think the scientists behaved with any more class or basic manners than did the East Bay Rats Motorcycle Club.