“Yosemite Valley, to me, is always a sunrise, a glitter of green and golden wonder in a vast edifice of stone and space.” – Ansel Adams

Visiting Yosemite National Park has been on my bucket list since I was a child.

The photographs of Ansel Adams, his illumination of the rock formations and waterfalls, the black and white magic of his images of stone and space, have been my inspiration for as long as I can remember.

Decades after that child began her wonder of visual images and the “making” of photographs as Adams would say, I finally had the opportunity to visit.

There are moments, places that make you feel significantly insignificant in their beauty and majesty. Yosemite is that kind of place – views so breath-taking that they seem surreal.

Being still, cherishing the beauty of the natural world in my moments there was challenging at times however. I visited on a summer weekend, along with what seemed like half the population of the country. I wish I could say that we were all engaged with the gifts of Mother Earth, listening to the gentle wind in the trees, feeling the sometimes unbearable heat of the sun on skin.

Much of the time there, people were more engaged with their cellphones. Climbing on rocks at a waterfall, places they shouldn’t have been, to get the best shot to post on social media. Placing their tiny dog, dressed in a vest and sunglasses, on a hot rock wall with a drop of hundreds of feet behind it, to get a photo of him with the spectacular tunnel view behind. People trampling the new growth of plants just to get the best selfie. Riding bikes on the pathways in ways that required others to jump out of the way to avoid injury.

What is it that we all see when we look at those photos in our phones or on Instagram? Are they reflections of moments in time that bring us joy? Pictures that reflect some aspect of who we are or who we want to be? How we want the world to perceive our lives?

I am a photographer. I took a selfie or two with my daughter. I understand the motivation for capturing a memory in an image that will trigger those memories in another day or time. But as a photographer, as a human being, I also put down that phone, put the lens cap back on my SLR and took the time to just be. I took the time to appreciate the majesty of that edifice of stone and space, the beauty of the sun’s play on the crevices of rock and the glint on the water that still remains from the enormous amount of snow the Sierras received this winter.

I heard once at yet another stunning National Park the comment “But what is there to do here?”

Theme parks with rides and concessions to entertain you inspire their own amazement and wonder. National Parks have a beauty and magic all their own.

Put down the phone. Open your eyes. Listen to the wind. Rather than discovering something “to do,” you just might find yourself.

susan schirl smith
Susan Schirl Smith is a writer, photographer and holistic nurse based in New Hampshire. Her essays have been published in Cognoscenti, Pangyrus, Silver Birch Press and The Journal of Holistic Nursing. Her photography has been featured in Barren Magazine and L’Ephemere Review. Smith’s current manuscript is Desperado, a memoir of her brother. You can follow Susan on her website or Facebook.

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