A couple of friends have been asking questions about where to go in the Sierras. It’s great fun to attempt to answer such questions, although it arouses my own desires to visit again, even if along a popular well-trod trail, and even if I won’t have enough time to lose myself properly. Who knows; maybe next month, with luck.
Along these lines, I came across a wonderfully poetic essay in the most recent issue of the quarterly ISLE (Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment). It’s not posted, so I’ll quote a couple of key graphs from "Un-Hating the Muir Trail," by David Oates:
Regular streams–of water–are produced by gravity; first sun, then wind and a few other elementary dynamics, then gravity. Down it comes, down blindly seeking down, and (miraculously) producing snowbanks, tarns with tadpoles, silverdollar cirque-lakes, waterfalls, cascades, meanders, trout pools, and all the rest of it. Amazing–just water gravitating, trying to go down…
A trail is created by equally invisible and hard-to-define forces. A stream of human footfalls is driven by a force of will and intention. Its gravity is desire. It can go up as well as down. Its elementary dynamics include longing, hearsay, loneliness, sociableness, love, curiousity, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life.
In the Great Western Divide the Muir Trail ends on Mt Whitney, the high point of the continent south of Alaska. Think of it: a stream of desire flowing upwards right to the summit.
And why not see this, too, as beautiful? A river of human beauty splashing and coursing through some of the most unhman beauty imaginable. Or not unhuman, exactly, but maybe more-than-human, trans-human beauty. Our little current of loving hiking seeing just one thread in the hugest of evermoving tapestries, peaks and valleys, carpenter ants and fir needles, gravities and carbon cycles…and us.
Yes! And here’s a shot of the trail in the Southern Sierra, near Bullfrog Lake, a scene of very ordinary beauty…
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