A fresh view of Yosemite

A new book takes an insider’s look at the famed park.

 

So many people had referred to Yosemite National Park as a church or cathedral that the first time I ever rolled into the valley, I swear I heard angels singing. Opening the covers of A Sense of Yosemite is about as close as you can get to that same experience in print.

The billing of David “Mas” Masumoto as an essayist in this book set high expectations for me. Masumoto is one of the most important writers of the Japanese-American experience in the U.S. He is a third-generation organic farmer who grows peaches, nectarines, grapes and raisins in California’s Central Valley, literally in the shadow of Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada. And his short, one-page or less essays appropriately discuss taking in Yosemite and its nature through the various senses.

Yosemite literally is home for photographer Nancy Robbins, who 12 years ago moved within its boundaries, in Wawona, and whose work really elevates Sense of Yosemite to a near-religious experience. Though Yosemite has been the scene of countless classic images by the likes of Ansel Adams and his ilk, Robbins manages to bring a fresh and creative viewpoint to the park. Her vision ranges from a brooding portrayal of Tunnel View, to her colorfully surprising take on stormy Glacier Point, to one of my favorites – her simple but poignant portrait of Half Dome and North Dome through an ice-crystal-flecked windshield.

Photo © Nancy Robbins, from A Sense of Yosemite, published by Yosemite Conservancy, www.yosemiteconservancy.org. This photo cannot be reproduced without permission from the publisher.

Robbins used her proximity to park features to freeze moments in Yosemite history in artistic splendor. In 2014, the Meadow Fire blazed near Half Dome and forced the evacuation by helicopter of dozens of hikers and tourists. Instead of Armaggedon, Robbins’ recreation transforms the flaming mayhem into a communal campfire moment.

Though well-known for her in-park portraits, which she calls “peoplescapes,” Robbins stays in this book with Yosemite’s landscapes and the park’s non-human inhabitants. Robbins not only sees the light, as a resident she sees it as it transforms scenes throughout the season, including the brief collision of fall and winter that she dubs, “Flinter.” During this fifth season, she finds both snowflakes and yellow leaves clinging to the branches of a black oak. 

That Robbins also is credited on the cover for her captions is neither mistake nor hyperbole by the Yosemite Conservancy, which published this work and is one of the largest and finest of the friends groups that support national parks around the country. Her captions cross the boundary of perfunctory description into the realm of emotion and poetic reflection, and are an essential feature of the package that includes her photos and Masumoto’s writings.

Photo © Nancy Robbins, from A Sense of Yosemite, published by Yosemite Conservancy, www.yosemiteconservancy.org. This photo cannot be reproduced without permission from the publisher.

Near the beginning of A Sense of Yosemite is a full-page, black-and-white portrait of an old oak tree in a meadow near Royal Arches, a cliff just below North Dome. Robbins calls it a symbol of life in the park. “… I’ve returned to the oak many times, season after season,” she writes. “As its branches fell, one by one, it kept offering me something new to photograph. Time was taking its toll, yet new leaves burst forth each year.” Alas, the tree succumbed in 2015. 

That very duality, the timeless renderings of Yosemite’s impermanence, is what drives this offering from two people whose lives and work literally are rooted in their subject matter.

“We are privileged to feel this wildness, yet I recognize that not everyone can feel this sacred place,” Masumoto writes. “I worry about the future: how can one miss something never felt? The invitation remains open: a visit to feel the power of Yosemite to touch people and make a lasting difference in their lives for generations.”

Contributing editor Glenn Nelson is the founder of The Trail Posse, which documents and encourages diversity and inclusion in the outdoors.

Return to:

An inside look at the national parks
High Country News Classifieds
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.
  • ANCESTRAL LANDS ADMINISTRATIVE MANAGER
    Starting Salary: Grade C, $19.00 to 24.00 per/hour Location: Albuquerque or Gallup, NM Status: Full-Time, Non-Exempt Benefit Eligible: Full Benefits Eligible per Personnel Policies Program...
  • GRAND CANYON DIRECTOR
    The Grand Canyon director, with the Grand Canyon manager, conservation director, and other staff, envisions, prioritizes, and implements strategies for the Grand Canyon Trust's work...
  • ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a part-time Administrative Assistant to support the organization's general operations. This includes phone and email communications, office correspondence and...
  • HISTORIC LODGE AND RESTAURANT - FULLY EQUIPPED
    Built in 1901, The Crazy Mountain Inn has 11 guest rooms in a town-center building on 7 city lots (.58 acres). The inn and restaurant...
  • ONE WILL: THREE WIVES
    by Edith Tarbescu. "One Will: Three Wives" is packed with a large array of interesting suspects, all of whom could be a murderer ... a...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR, SALAZAR CENTER FOR NORTH AMERICAN CONSERVATION
    The Program Director will oversee the programmatic initiatives of The Salazar Center, working closely with the Center's Director and staff to engage the world's leading...
  • WILDEARTH GUARDIANS - WILD PLACES PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Salary Range: $70,000-$80,000. Location: Denver, CO, Portland, OR, Seattle, WA, Missoula, MT or potentially elsewhere for the right person. Application Review: on a rolling basis....
  • RIVER EDUCATOR/GUIDE + TRIP LEADER
    Position Description: Full-time seasonal positions (mid-March through October) Organizational Background: Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a 10 year old nonprofit organization fostering community stewardship of...
  • BOOKKEEPER/ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT
    Position Description: Part-time, year-round bookkeeping and administration position (12 - 16 hours/week) $16 - $18/hour DOE Organizational Background: Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a 10...
  • LAND STEWARD
    San Isabel Land Protection Trust seeks a full-time Land Steward to manage and oversee its conservation easement monitoring and stewardship program for 42,437 acres in...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Ventana Wilderness Alliance is seeking an experienced forward-facing public land conservation leader to serve as its Executive Director. The mission of the Ventana Wilderness Alliance...
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education,...
  • GRANT WRITER
    "We all love this place we call Montana. We believe that land and water and air are not ours to despoil, but ours to steward...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    The Development Director is responsible for organizing and launching a coherent set of development activities to build support for the Natural History Institute's programs and...
  • WILDLIFE PROJECT COORDINATOR
    Founded in 1936, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF or Federation) is America's largest and most trusted grassroots conservation organization with 53 state/territorial affiliates and more...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Cinnabar Foundation helps protect and conserve water, wildlife and wild lands in Montana and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem by supporting organizations and people who...
  • OLIVERBRANCH CONSULTING
    Non-Profit Management Professional specializing in Transitional Leadership, Strategic Collaborations, Communications and Grant Management/Writing.
  • GREAT VIEWS, SMALL FOOTPRINT
    Close to town but with a secluded feel, this eco-friendly home includes solar panels, a graywater reuse system, tankless hot water, solar tubes, and rainwater...