the photoshooter's journey from taking to making

THE NEW MOSES

This is where it all began; the famous outcropping of stone atop Yosemite’s Glacier Point, where Sierra Club founder John Muir and President Theodore Roosevelt stood in 1903 to symbolize the beginning of the United States National Park system. 1/125 sec., f/14, ISO 100, 32mm.

 

By MICHAEL PERKINS

WE CAN ONLY GUESS, AS HE GAZED OUT UPON CANAAN, the long-promised homeland of the wander-weary Israelites, what Moses felt, especially given that he himself would be forbidden to set foot upon that sacred soil. Perhaps, in our recent history, something of a parallel can be drawn to the vista shown above, the aerie from which John Muir, the lanky, ascetic Scotsman who became the first champion of the Yosemite, peered into the vast wilderness he was sworn to protect. This is the view from atop Glacier Point, directly opposite Half-Dome and, in the farther distance, the majesty of Yosemite Falls. It is also one of the only places in the United States where you can literally stand on the spot where history took a new turn.

Like Moses, Muir was a both a prophet and a protector, entranced by the stunning beauty of his adopted country and horrified at its vulnerability before the juggernaut of progress. Unlike Moses, he actually gained entry to his personal promised land, hiking its immense acreage, personally discovering many of its most amazing features and acting as correspondent to his fellow countrymen to apprise them of the great treasure lying unknown inside their borders.

As the founder of the Sierra Club and the most profound poet laureate of the preservation movement (he favored that word over the later “conservation”), Muir’s first choice would probably have been to surround all of Yosemite with at least a mental fence, a barrier of conscience to prevent its plunder by profiteers. His second choice became fateful for us all…..to enlist the federal government as a guardian for his Eden, and to unleash the energy of that nation’s most intrepid crusader for the environment.

John Muir was a veteran of nearly 35 years of preservationist skirmishes by the time he met President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903. Muir, desperate for a way to protect Yosemite beyond the puny efforts of local and state governments, met TR in Oakland, California, and the pair traveled by train to Redmond before taking a stagecoach the rest of the way into Yosemite Valley. Muir used the travel time to implore the president to place Yellowstone under national protection, and Roosevelt, agreeing, asked his host to show him “the real Yosemite”. After heading out into the back country essentially alone and camping under the stars atop Glacier Point, the two awoke to new-fallen snow and a new alliance.

“This is Bully!” Roosevelt and Muir atop Glacier Point, 1903.

That alliance was captured in the shot at left, which shows nearly the same view of the Yosemite Valley as my image at the head of this article. Three years later, in 1906, Muir and the Sierra Club successfully added the valley and the Mariposa Grove (a massive forest of giant sequoias) to the overall Yosemite National Park acreage, and finally saw the entire area placed under federal protection. The United States National Park concept, unique in the entire world of the early 20th century, had been born, the American Moses leading the way to a greener, more perfect union.

 

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3 responses

  1. Nice article. We must never takes these places for granted, and photography is one of the best ways to present their grandeur to as many people as possible – people who can gain an appreciation for the continuing advocacy that our natural wonders constantly need, even more than a century later.

    July 4, 2012 at 1:38 PM

    • The urgency to see these places as special and worthy of protection is no less than in Muir’s day….in fact, we are harder pressed to make the general population see these lands as more than “a bunch of pretty trees”. We may have had the excuse of ignorance in his day….now we are just guilty of neglect.

      July 4, 2012 at 2:00 PM

  2. Pingback: An Awe-inspiring Camping Trip « Books of Wonder and Wisdom

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