It’s been four days now since we have been out of Yosemite, and I still can’t really write anything to do it justice. Here’s my best shot. Thank you for reading!
Everything in Yosemite is big. The granite is exposed, unbroken, and so massive that your eyes keep trying to adjust, to focus, to fathom, because the sheer size of this place is disorienting for the human mind. Your body has never felt smaller. The waterfalls are dizzying because of their power, so much energy and movement and change being produced by their flow, with gallons upon gallons of new water in every moment.
I think Joe said it best, as we stood in a sweeping, grassy meadow in front of Half Dome within an hour of arriving in the Valley. He looks out in the distance, then looks at me, out at Half Dome again, and back to me. He furrows his brow. I don’t get it, Joe says.
And that’s really the best way to describe Yosemite–unfathomable. Even after having been there numerous times now, since I was a little girl, from my experience you never really adjust. I still can’t go for a run across the valley floor without my head tingling. And on this particular trip, from the moment we got there, my fingers were tingling as well.
I wanted to climb everything.
One may think, why would someone want to climb in Yosemite? All of the rock is so big, so exposed, so in your face, there’s nowhere to hide once you’re up there. Every direction you look–up or down, full circle around you–there is space. Massive amounts of it. Unlike some places where you can get 500 feet up but are still surrounded by trees or ledges of rock, in the valley there is no hiding from the fact that you’re way the hell off the ground. When you look down, you see the earth. There is nothing to distort your perception of space. If you look out, your eyes roll around for a minute just to understand the vastness of air around you. Tourists point up at you and snap pictures, they are the size of your thumbnail. This adds a whole layer of difficulty to the climbing here. At first, your body naturally tenses up, you cling and scrape at the rock instead of move with it, and with even the easiest moves you’re giving 100% of your effort, because your mind thinks you have to.
Sounds pretty terrifying, right?
Well, it is terrifying. And that was interesting for me. I wondered, why do I want to climb all of this if it’s so big, so scary, so uncomfortable? That question was answered as soon as I got on the rock.
As I climbed on our first day, even though I was dealing with fear, I also felt strangely comforted. And the comfort was coming from the very things that were making me feel vulnerable and exposed–the granite, the vast views, the loud waterfalls. I felt invited, drawn in, and I noticed myself thanking the rock, out loud, as I climbed and found a good hold. It sounds crazy, I know. So began this back and forth play with the granite, some moments it caused me great fear, the next it felt nurturing, like it was caring for me. This happened constantly on the trip, even when I was not climbing. In one moment we’re standing in shock in the thick of the forest watching a bear rip a tree in half searching for grubs, the next we see a deer with her babies grazing on the grasses. One second we’re dunking our heads in the freezing Merced river, losing our breath as our lungs pause, the next we’re sprawled out like lizards on the warm ground, thawing in the afternoon sun. I frantically run from an afternoon thunderstorm to enter a cozy, quiet room filled with climbers on their laptops. A climber dies on El Cap from a rock fall, Alex sees a duckling take flight for the first time ever. I swat mosquitos as they swarm my legs, hundreds of lady bugs land on my belly as I’m doing a midday backbend. As the giant redwoods and sequoias tower over you tiny body, the dogwoods are blooming and seem to soften everything.
I’ve been in love before. Now that I’m at the whopping age of 24 I can say that without you all rolling your eyes. Right? Well, Yosemite felt a lot like being in love–that insanity of being comforted and nurtured by the very thing that also makes you feel more exposed and vulnerable and scared than anything in this wide world. Do you notice how in relationships we tend to mess up, cheat, hurt each other, say something stupid, or flee when the time comes to be vulnerable? It’s too much for us, we can’t take any more fear, any more open wounds, so we throw it all away in hopes of avoidance. On the first day of the trip, when the climbing got scary I automatically down climbed and froze up. But by the last day, I was moving through the times of exposure with my eyes and heart wide open. Then, without doubt, I would eventually find a place to rest, to take shelter.
I’m trying to stay open, to take with me what I saw in the valley. To trust that moments of vulnerability are rewarded with feelings of true safety and comfort. Instead of grasping and clinging, I’m releasing my grip, I’m noticing when my mind causes me to tense up just because I’m way. the hell. up there.
It’s working, and I’m not as afraid anymore.