It was almost childlike, what I felt sitting atop Yosemite Falls.
My legs dangled over the edge of cliff, swinging back and forth, not unlike a child’s would on a swing. And the joy – the pure, untainted joy, mined from nothing artificial like a screen or the dopamine rush of a “like” or “favorite” but the raw, breathtaking world around me – rushed up from somewhere deep inside my stomach so swift and fast that it culminated in a fit of giggles I just couldn’t stop.
Even the food we were eating – a cold, plain bagel, with Skippy Extra Crunchy Peanut Butter spread copiously on top – wasn’t much different from what I’d eat for lunch as a kid.
And so we sat, Delaney Knudsen and I, two kids on top of the world, freezing, wind biting the tops of our ears and fingers and noses, eating extra crunchy peanut butter on a plain bagel, feet dangling over the edge of a cliff thousands of feet in the air, incomprehensibly giddy.
Delaney had told me about Yosemite. No, not just told. Raved. Gushed. Fawned.
“My favorite place in the world,” she had said, so many times it became my unofficial tagline for the park. It’s difficult for a place to live up to hype like that.
Yosemite isn’t like other places.
Delaney has always told me that pictures just can’t do it justice. Can’t even come close. And indeed, the pictures are stunning. I can now testify they do not even come close.
I can’t imagine the words of this page will, either. I’m going to try anyway.
I’d never been to Yosemite before this past weekend. I’d never seen a waterfall. Which means I had surely never seen a waterfall at night, never watched its majestic violence, slamming into rocks before flinging itself into the air, rushing down a mountain face so fast and smooth it looks like smoke going in the reverse direction, unfurling down rather than up, the mountain constantly exhaling an impossibly long drag. The hues and depths of color of the falls reflecting the moon and stars were so vibrant they seemed original editions – never seen before, never to be seen again. In a way, that’s true. The river will never be frozen in the exact same spots, and the moon never that exact size and place in the sky, so as to reflect a shade of white I never knew existed.
I never even realized there were shades of white. You might not either until you sit on a rock a mile and a half or so below Yosemite Falls, watching the moon reflect off a waterfall that is thousands of feet long. There’s cream-white and sugar-white, snow-white and the white you see on the tips of flames. There’s the blinding white we see when we open our doors for the first time and the cookies-and-cream white we see in ice cream and dirty snow.
And then there’s an incandescent, almost glow in the dark white, made exclusively by a waterfall on a clear night, lit by moon and stars so bright that it actually cast a shadow and illuminated, in some parts, our walk home.
There’s Yosemite White.
Perhaps you think this hyperbolic. I’d expect that means you’ve never been. And it’s funny, what happens when you’re there: For stretches, you feel as if you might be the only two people in the world. Not in the dystopian, “I am Legend” sort of way, but as if you’re just in a different world, one of a different time and place.
On our trek up to Vernal Falls, Delaney said it felt as if we were in the Roman era, walking upon those cobblestone steps, which were cracked in places, slick from the mist of the falls, brilliantly green earth crawling over them. I mentioned that I felt like we were transplanted in a world of Greek mythology, as if Zeus himself had carved out those steps, as if he, Poseidon, Hades, Apollo, Ares, Athena, Hermes and the crew were deliberating together just beyond the falls.
And then you get to the top, and you look down, and you realize that, in spite of the beauty of that spot – and indeed it is beautiful – in spite of just how high you are, they wouldn’t settle for Vernal Falls. No, they’d be another mile or so up, at Nevada Falls, a site of even more incomprehensible beauty, with an even steeper drop off and – is it possible? – a better view. So you begin climbing again, ignoring the gates that claim the trail is closed, and up up up you go. And then you get to Nevada Falls, and – God, how is this possible? – it’s even prettier than you thought. And you sit down, break out the bagels and peanut butter, look over the falls, and you let the laughter tumble up as uncontrollably as the water is tumbling down. Neither of you say a word, because sometimes words don’t really need to be said.
Sometimes words just don’t do a place justice.