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
  • MEMBERSHIP DIRECTOR
    Job Announcement: Membership Director Job Title: Membership Director Supervisor: Executive Director Classification: Full-time exempt Location: Boise, ID Job Overview Winter Wildlands Alliance is seeking a...
  • IMPROVED LOT
    Private road, hillside, views. Well, pad, septic, 99 sq.ft. hut. Dryland permaculture orchard. Wildlife. San Diego--long growing season
  • STEWARDSHIP SPECIALIST
    San Isabel Land Protection Trust seeks experienced person to manage its 133 conservation easements in south-central Colorado.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Executive Director Position Announcement POSITION TITLE: Executive Director ORGANIZATION: Friends of Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument REPORTING TO: Board of Directors LOCATION: Ashland, OR POSTING CLOSES: March...
  • ARIZONA CONSERVATION CORPS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Arizona Conservation Corps is seeking a Program Director in Flagstaff or Tucson
  • UNIQUE INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITY
    Profitable off-the-grid business located 2 miles from Glacier National Park. Owner has 6 years operating experience. Seeking investor or partner for business expansion and enhancement....
  • NEW MEXICO PROPERTY - SILVER CITY
    20 acres, $80,000. Owner financing, well, driveway, fencing possible, very private, sensible covenants, broker owned. Contact - 575-534-7955 or [email protected]
  • 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...
  • COMMUNICATIONS COORDINATOR
    ABOUT US: "This thriving citizens organization exemplifies the ideal of public involvement in public processes." - Billings Gazette At Northern Plains, we believe that true...
  • ST. LAWRENCE UNIVERSITY - ASSISTANT DIRECTOR IN THE OUTDOOR PROGRAM
    To view the complete position description please visit: http://employment.stlawu.edu. St. Lawrence University is an Equal Opportunity Employer.
  • TRAIL CREW & ASSISTANT TRAIL CREW LEADERS
    SEEKING TALENTED TRAIL WORK LEADERS The Pacific Crest Trail Association, headquartered in Sacramento, California is dedicated to protecting, preserving and promoting the Pacific Crest National...
  • SEASONAL SAN JUAN RANGERS
    Seeking experienced crew members to patrol Colorado's most iconic mountain wilderness.
  • REMOTE SITKA ALASKA FLOAT HOUSE VACATION RENTAL
    Vacation rental located in calm protected waters 8 miles from Sitka, AK via boat with opportunities to fish and view wildlife. Skiff rental also available.
  • DEVELOPMENT AND ADVOCACY DIRECTOR
    Provide stewardship and protection for the Great Burn wildlands along the Montana-Idaho stateline. This position is based in Missoula, MT, where a river runs through...
  • LISA MACKEY PHOTOGRAPHY
    Fine Art Gicle Printing. Photo papers, fine art papers, canvas. Widths up to 44". Art printing by an artist.
  • WILDERNESS CONSERVATION CORPS - OREGON
    The Siskiyou Mountain Club is hiring interns for the 2020 Field Season. Interns utilize non-mechanized tools to complete trail restoration and maintenance while gaining job...
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.