One from the Valley

Cathedral Trees

I recently spent a lovely three days in Yosemite Valley, and returned with my memory card loaded up with…. wait for it…. a whopping 22 landscape images. And almost half of those were of a bird, and didn’t turn out.

I did go out with my camera to see what would would happen. I drove and strolled around the valley at dawn, enjoying the soft light, the bird song, the brief, blessed lack of cars and people. I do not wish to disparage Yosemite Valley, or in any way to imply that its scenery is not achingly beautiful and well worth photographing. But being awed by a place and being artistically inspired by it are not the same thing. Truthfully, I don’t have a real relationship with Yosemite. I’ve visited off and on, both as a child and in recent years, but I visit as a tourist. The knowledge that constitutes a relationship with a landscape, knowledge of its hidden corners, the subtleties of its geology, its unexpected views, its living creatures, the changes of its seasons – it’s knowledge I don’t have over there. For now, I don’t have photographic stories to tell about Yosemite Valley, but strolling by the Merced River that morning, this fact didn’t trouble me. With places as with other photo subjects, it’s just fine to take some gentle walks together before you presume to distill their deepest essence through a camera lens.

For all that, I did come away with this one image. Perhaps because I come from the dry and desert-y Eastern Sierra, one of my favorite aspects the Valley is the trees. The intermingling of the big, spreading oaks and pines with the cliffs and boulders is a form of beauty I just don’t see in my usual territory, and if I were to attempt serious photography in Yosemite Valley, that is where I’d focus (Charlotte Gibb is a master of Yosemite tree photography). In the midst of feeling no need to make images that morning, I noticed the first touch of light on a well-arranged grove of shadowed trees under Cathedral Spires. It was just one quiet, private moment with the Valley and its forests, and it was really all I wanted.

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One thought on “One from the Valley

  1. I echo your sentiment: Yosemite does not inspire me at all, artistically speaking. This is not to diminish it in any way. I am lucky to have experienced its grandeur, but for photography I’ll take a pass.

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