…here we can be

I just got back from three days in Yosemite. I’ve been there many times in my life, but this is the first time in ages that I’ve been there without going to Tuolumne Meadows — aka, my favorite place on Earth. Instead, I went with my parents to a cabin in Wawona, far on the southern tip of the park.

Wawona has none of the grandeur of the valley or Tuolumne, but staying in a cabin was nice. On the morning of the first full day, we drove up to Glacier Point and took in the incredible view of Yosemite Valley, stretching out into Tenaya Canyon, and featuring the classic landmarks of Half Dome, Cloud’s Rest, Nevada and Vernal Falls, and Yosemite Falls.

I wanted to get at least one epic hike in, so my parents agreed to meet me in the valley and I’d hike down there from Glacier Point. It’s roughly 9.5 miles from the point to Curry Village, using the Panorama Trail that passes through Illouette, Nevada and Vernal falls. It’s a mostly downhill journey, so I figured it would take me three or four hours. I realized about a mile in how off I was, not because it isn’t doable, but because I left no time to chill out and enjoy the views. It wound up taking me 4 ½. I kept a rapid clip, but still left enough time to take pictures and stop to soak it all in once in a while.

View of Half Dome, Yosemite

View of Half Dome, Yosemite

Any time I’m in the Sierra Nevada, music takes on a new level of appreciation. I like to absorb the sounds around me as I start a hike, but before long I have to listen to something to accompany these landscapes exploding into my field of vision.

It can’t be too pretty or soft. Landscape isn’t just nature and color and light out there. There’s an ontological component at work, especially when I’m hiking alone. It’s beauty combined with isolation and god and the possibility of death. So it has to reflect that feel. Stuff that works is Michael Hedges, A Small Good Thing, Kaki King, Scenic, and, for whatever reason, Smashing Pumpkins. But the two biggies for me are Steve Tibbetts and Yes. Steve Tibbetts is perfect because he’s got that whole Buddhist dynamic thing going on of life/death, darkness/light… I don’t know, his stuff is just… intense.

But Yes is in a whole different class. It’s a strange thing, but when I listen to this band in the Sierras I somehow completely close down certain neural pathways while sending myself into what can only be described – unfortunately – as a transcendental experience. If I play a song like “Awaken” or “The Gates of Delirium” or “And You And I” or “Turn of the Century,” something kind of magical happens without me even trying. I still have my rational mind and all my logical facilities. But it brings about an extreme sense of focus within the place. It’s a bizarre and beautiful thing – the music and the landscape congeal into a single, evolving entity, inseparable from each other. Music becomes nature, art becomes landscape. Color and sound are the same vivid thing.

I know how cheesy and pompous that sounds. But I don’t care. Somehow I’m able to conjure the ability to hear music on a sort of elevated level and it’s one of the things that makes me absolutely thrilled to be alive.

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