When you’re living in a city it’s easy to get caught up in human creations. Almost everything I see and touch all day has been concocted by humans — the streets, the buildings, the machine I’m typing these words on. Even most things us city folk associate with nature — our parks, gardens, and greenbelts — have been tamed and groomed by human hands. And really, I’m deeply appreciative for so much of what we have shaped — the culture, the architecture, the arts, using our big brains to create beauty and wonder.
But no matter how brilliant our ideas or how grandiose our endeavors, it’s good to be humbled from time to time by mother nature’s inherent awesomeness, quiet perfection, and ability to outshine and outlast even our most magnificent accomplishments. A trip to Yosemite National Park will do to get the right kind of perspective.
Left: El Capitan, Yosemite National Park; right: World Trade Center, New York, photos by Sven Eberlein
For the last fourteen years, the weekend before Memorial Day has been set aside for a somewhat unusual trip to the mountains around Yosemite. It all began when my dear friend and band mate Johnny asked his old friends Paul and Karen, who had just bought a house near the park, if they wanted to have some live music on their back porch for an end of school-year party they were throwing for their community of park rangers. The answer was an enthusiastic “Yes,” and the rest, as they say, was history.
This year marked the 15th anniversary of what has become an annual celebration of music, friends, and laughter in one of the most stunning settings imaginable. In addition to 9 bands (Johnny and I performed as the acoustic duo “Beet The System”), delicious home brew, and plenty of dancing and hula-hooping, there’s always someone swinging from the old black oak tree.
But perhaps the most coveted part of the weekend for a city slicker like me is when we get our act together after a full day of jamming and partying and make it into the park on Sunday. What we lack in time is usually made up by the fact that we’re chaperoned by Paul or Karen, who know Yosemite like their back pockets and take us to places that are either a bit off the beaten path or in full bloom with whatever it is that’s blooming.
Last Sunday was one of those occasions.
After breakfast a bunch of big and small kids piled into Paul’s van and drove up to the park. Our destination was El Capitan, the 3,000 foot granite monolith located on the north side of Yosemite Valley.
It’s hard to miss El Cap on your way to the village. I had laid on the valley meadow many times watching rock climbers mount one of the world’s favorite challenges, but Paul was going to take us up close and personal. We parked the van on the side of the road and walked up a rocky switchback trail. There’s something about a boulder this big that always makes you think you’re so far away from it, but it didn’t take long until it started to feel really close.
We stopped for a quick picnic and Paul pulled out his binoculars to watch climbers going up “The Nose,” the most popular route to the top. It takes about 4 to 5 days on average to ascent, though on the way down we would run into Paul’s friend Eliza who had just recently climbed El Cap in one day.
Next thing we knew we were there…
Up close and personal.
El Cap on my mind…
Although I’m bilingual, there are no real words in either the English or German language that can capture the feeling of being dwarfed by a hundred million year old granite behemoth. It’s simply too large to fit into conceptual boxes. So I just stand there, taking it in quietly, the feeling of sticking my soul’s toe into the eternal ocean of the universe, of landing my little rain drop of time on planet Earth in the roaring river of timelessness. I’m lost and found all at once.
After a short hike down and a few more encounters with climbers (“What do you do when you have to poop?” — “We pack it up and bring it with us, of course!”) and a jump in the river pictured above (divine!), we piled in the van to get back to our home base, when Paul suddenly shouted: “Ladybugs!”
Although I was sitting in the passenger seat I probably wouldn’t have noticed, but there it was, a dense cloud of swarming bugs surrounding us like mystic nebula. Paul of course knew exactly where they were hatching, and with a childlike grin on his face flipped a u-turn. We all got out of the van once again and walked down the bank of the river into a tall grass area, and there they were.
In the grass…
On rocks and trees…
hanging out in pine cones…
It was as if we had entered a different world, an alternate reality, a wonderland of epic proportions. Suddenly the things you never see or pay attention to were everywhere, a vibrant, bustling ecosystem within many other ecosystems. It made me think about how much of the grand and complex web of life we are missing every day, not just physically but mentally and viscerally. So much of our perception is focused on the biggest stunts, the brightest lights, and the loudest screams, but what about the smaller and less visible threads that hold together the whole? What if we opened our hand to the microcosms upon which all the macrocosms are built?
These were the thoughts I was immersed in when Johnny asked if I wanted to experience the mariquita energy. I spread my arms wide and he flicked his hand at me. Hundreds of ladybugs landing on me all at once almost felt like an electric shock, a transfer of energy impossible to ignore. The huge impact of the small literally hit me in the face.
Little by little the ladybugs flew off (the last ones I shook off my shirt) and we returned to the van one last time. As we were coasting down the hill I could still feel the soothing calm of El Cap and the tingling sensation from the mariquitas, all blended into one. It seemed, for a moment, that things large and small are all sprung from the same source.