No service in Yosemite.
Actually, no. That’s a lie. There was cell phone and internet coverage everywhere in Yosemite. Just not any my piddling phone could pick up. Which was totally fine with me. Camping and the exploration of anti-civilization is supposed to be about isolation. I’m even loathed to use clocks.
“What time is it?” a campmate will ask. “The Day Ball is up!” I’ll snarl a bit too harshly. “It just rose. Time has no meaning here. We can work while there is light, until the Day Ball is replaced by the Night Ball and the light is gone.”
“Okay, fine,” they say. “But what time is it?”
“The Day Ball is up,” I’d repeat, simply. As if it is all the answer they need.
My aspirations of isolationism were somewhat shattered by the influx of people massing like galvanized ants in every possible place they could be crammed, bringing to mind such phrases as “shit show” or “Disney Land”. Great mounds of people in any direction. And the human construction to house them and their each feasting whim. I could feel the ghost of Edward Abbey building rage at the multitude of hotels, food courts, modern conveniences– even an actual chlorine swimming pool. Or maybe it was my own.
The second day was easier to hike and explore: I had the expectation of the crowded scramble in every possible view. It became suddenly surprising when I would hear English in the few stolen seconds of eavesdropping from each passing tourist group: German was near constant; Japanese, Chinese, or Korean could be pulled apart and guessed at; Spanish was rare and often comforting.
It was impossible not to stare at the people piling over each other: families, foreigners, thrill seekers, obese wheezing hikers, it seemed everyone was there. Oh, to be a tiny child with ice cream. Such supreme joy.
It seems difficult to describe the majesty of a place so innate and ancient. The poetry and accolades of rougher men than me have trounced the vital beauty of these places as treasured paradises of the world. Should conservation be an exercise in reverence? Do you describe the physical features of stone and water and flora? Or the many animals: the soaring freedom of stormy raptors or savage corvids swooping through the open canyon air, experiencing what no man truly can?
Or it is more abstract than that. It is the emotion that is foremost the empathic element of the words chosen. It is the geology, to describe the age and power of these godly rudiments. Is it the art of nature, with its color and light, weaving and blending the complicated vision of Beauty that seems so aesthetically human. Is it the glory of the infinitesimal and universal within an ecosystem of interplay set within the fixture of insulating glacier-carved granite. Is it a simple appreciation of a existence that is the antithesis of humanity. Even as humanity sneaks ever constantly in. Perhaps that is our modern legacy. Conservation by subjugation.
An exacting shuttle bus passed the hordes along the looping valley road, its dutiful white-haired driver seeming to take pride out of his function. Although more a means of free transport than tour guide, he would sometimes speak folksy and authoritatively about local facts or history, such as a Lucile Ball movie having once been filmed there.
“My personal favorite,” he explained. A recent rockslide had crushed two car in one of the parking lots. “No one was hurt, thank God.”
When tourists would attempt to get on via the sliding backdoors, he’d suddenly scream into his mic, “The BACK doors are for EXITING ONLY. EXITING ONLY. Ma’am. MA’AM. MA’AM. You CANNOT ENTER from the BACK DOORS,” leaving the bewildered few to scatter apologetically back into the pedestrian crowds.
“JFK visited too. Took up the entire second and third floors of the hotel,” he went on. “Forgot to pack his wife though. Rumors had it that Marilyn Monroe could be seen about the premises…” He let the final phrase hang and drift off mysteriously in the air, imagining people gape and puff without having to actual say anything truly definite himself. I wondered how many times he’d said the joke, bringing to peoples’ minds a reminder of America’s most famous and yet salaciously PC sexual gossip.
The 4+ hour drive itself to Yosemite (pronounced “Yo-suh-might”, I believe”) was pleasant enough. California is vastly more populated than I am used, a drive from Albuquerque 40 minutes in any direction you choose places you exactly in the middle of nowhere. Nothing like this. I’m able to fantasize about looming cyberpunk cysts at the sight of skeletal factories protruding from the earth as I pass. But the veins of circulating highways go on for hours and hours, the flows of traffic and cars never lessening by any observable means. The miles and miles of orchards (apples? oranges?) that eventually emerge give the appearance of lush naturalism, but the strict lines after lines of orderly regiment speak only of industry.
The drive was so pleasant, it took an accidental detour through the suspiciously named “Pleasanton”, a township so immaculately crafted and pruned that by necessity it must harbor some great, dark secret. Largely, on its attractive and leery surface, Pleasanton appeared like a vast retirement home: the usual Californian shaved palm trees, brightly impending lawns, and quaint whimsical housing concealing something silent and horrid. “Lake Pleasanton” could be seen at the eastern edge of town as I exited an area called “Shadow Cliffs”, a place likely not renamed to cover its sordid truth. The white people doing water yoga in the middle of the lake didn’t fool me for a moment into thinking their lurid conspiracy might be covered by their efforts at Floating Upturned Dog or Moistened Rag Doll.
Your sedition won’t be invisible for long, “Pleasanton”. Believe you me.