We’re driving home. The hills roll out before me, Mono Lake glistens in the distance, a light dusting of snow splatters the tops of the mountains that define the landscape. This drive, this view, is always a little different, but today it feels like something entirely new. I’ve just learned more about the landscape and begun to understand the science behind it. What I used to look at and think of as hills, are now the lateral and terminal moraines of massive glaciers that stretched from Yosemite into Mono Lake. The sudden rise of the Sierra comes from faulting, the erratic boulders are from ancient massive glaciers, the Bishop Tuft is from one of the most immense recorded volcanic explosions. All the little pieces of a view I see so often, come into focus with entire histories behind them.
After I have learned more of the science behind this area, I see the view differently. It’s in the same way that food tastes better after hiking all day, or the final product feels better because you worked hard on it. All of the sudden, I can recognize the work that went into shaping this environment. I can imagine huge flowing glaciers carving out the granite peaks of Yosemite, carrying boulders down into the Mono Basin and depositing them on moraines that now roll across the landscape. When I recognize the forces that shaped this landscape I am overwhelmed by the beauty and the sheer amount of work that went into creating this view. I see not only the current product, but also the path it took to get there. And it makes me see the landscape with that much more awe. It serves to make me feel tinier, but not in a way that hurts, in a way that reminds me of my position in the world. It makes me savor the view, instead of just knowing I’ll see it later. It makes me grasp on to each moment of beauty, and feel immensely privileged to see this view. Understanding what massive forces went into shaping this land of minuscule details makes me all the more humbled by the view.
I think that living in a place like this sometimes makes us forget how beautiful everything around us actually is. The towering mountains, clouds building up on the horizon, pink skies, and rain falling in the distance, become normal. It becomes normal to be surrounded by beauty that can bring people to tears, so we forget to embrace it every day, to take in the beauty and awe. We forget to look for the astounding, tiny details and the huge sweeping views. But there are these little instances that make me remember the awe. And sometimes that’s a weekend-long field trip about the geology of the area, or it’s the entire high school going into Yosemite together and finding connection between nature and each other through the wild landscape. It’s watching awe light up on other people’s faces, it’s feeling more connection, and more love when in the outdoors. These little moments, where I suddenly see the tiny details, where I make a connection that can’t exist without the land, remind me of this massively beautiful landscape we are privileged to live surrounded by.