Falling in Love with Mountains, Pebbles, and Waterfalls: Our Relationship with Place

Yosemite Valley, Merced River, El Capitan--Yosemite National Park, California. I love Yosemite's meadows as much as I do its mountains and cliffs.

Most of us have memories of falling in love with someone.  And I’m not just referring to that first love that often occurs in high school and never goes away.  No, I’m talking about finding the first perfect love, or what at the time seemed to be perfect, when we were mature enough and experienced enough to recognize that we had stumbled upon something that would never be repeated and that would be with us forever, even if that intangible “something” must persist only in recollection.

Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, California

I hear people reminisce about such relationships all the time.  In some cases they’re still with the man or woman who helped create such happy memories.  Often, though, there is an underlying tone of longing and regret that accompanies the remembrance of something lost.  Such people talk about how idyllic it all was, and how nonetheless there were also moments of pain and sadness that acted as counterbalances to the more euphoric periods.  They speak at great length of how they felt, how they behaved, how reality itself was transformed by their contact with this other being.  They remember the strangest details, the most irrelevant and trivial facts only because such minutiae coincided with their fleeting encounter with contentment.  It may be that one day at lunch a loose strand of hair dangled over their lover’s glacier-blue eyes and somehow made them especially attractive.  Or it may be something as silly as the name of the waiter where they had an incredible dinner one night.

Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, California

I have no such memories, at least not in connection with one specific girl.  I’ve been in love before, but I’ve never been in what seemed to be a perfect relationship.  When people  tell me how in love they are and how wonderful everything is as a result, instead of thinking back to a time with someone, I think of my relationship with some place.  I think of mountains, snow, sheer cliffs and waterfalls.  Images of undulating green meadows and towering sequoias stream through my mind and I am inundated with thoughts of lying alone next to rushing rivers, swinging my legs over bottomless canyons, or sitting in rocking chairs talking to curious strangers and random tourists.

I recall standing for hours in Yosemite Valley peering up at moonlit cliffs to see climbers flash lights on and off all through the night, or standing in the same spot during the day convincing myself that I could actually see these people working their way to the top of their climbing routes.  I remember anonymous little pebbles in the river that fascinated me for no reason at all.  I think of staring captivated at the glint of the guard rail at Glacier Point, 3,200 ft above Curry Village, riding the shuttle round and round the valley for no reason except that I had nothing better to do, or wading up and down the Merced one day and coming across a middle aged woman with a wide smile doing exactly the same thing.

From the trail to the brink of Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park, California. Most of the rest of the photos are from 2000 and were taken with a point and shoot film camera.

These memories are my point of reference when anyone speaks to me of being in love.  It’s odd, really, because I went to Yosemite with this naïve, romantic notion that I would find a girl there and we would fall in love.  If my boyish fantasy had been realized, I’m sure that instead of always speaking obsessively (and monotonously) about nature, I would spend my time remembering that girl and the relationship she and I had together.  I would do so with a smile, and perhaps I would let escape a hint of regret over losing what seemed to be so perfect.  I would not forget the cliffs, the waterfalls, and the odd people I came to know, nor would I fail to remember what a wonderful place Yosemite is, but these memories would be dimmed, and they would rest concealed in the shadow of other memories.

But as it happens, I did not fall in love with that girl, though I’m sure I might have had I gone about things differently.  So instead of speaking today about how she and I met and how I’ll never forget our time together, I talk yet again of inanimate cliffs and stoic monoliths, as if I had fallen in love with a park and not a person–because that’s just what happened.

From Eagle Peak, about 3,000 ft. above Yosemite Valley.

Half Dome and Tenaya Canyon as seen from Glacier Point.

Vernal Falls, where the Merced River drops over a 317 ft. shelf before calming down and entering Yosemite Valley within about another half mile.

Yosemite Valley as seen from Half Dome, about 5,000 ft. above the valley. There's a much better picture of a similar view in the May or June 2011 issue of National Geographic.

North Dome, during a winter of rock slides and avalanches.

The only picture I have available at the moment of the Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls. See the buses parked along the road for scale.

For more national park photos, see the following recent posts:

About atomsofthought
Photographer. Traveler. Writer. Reader.

18 Responses to Falling in Love with Mountains, Pebbles, and Waterfalls: Our Relationship with Place

  1. mydeardiary9 says:

    I fall in love with your pictures of Nature every time 🙂

  2. cra5564 says:

    The writing of this person is absolutely beautiful and it left me wanting to read more…..
    The photos that accompanied the writing were breathtaking. So, thank you to the author.

  3. possibly obsessive, but never monotonous

    I have too much to say, so it won’t come out – everything’s jockeying for position in there. All I can reasonably get out is that I love the picture from Eagle Peak. Wow! The perspective…

    It makes me want to plunge off the side of that mountain and hurl myself out and over, into the green valley below. Paragliding would take me down too slow – I need to fly! And then I would pull my chute at the last possible minute.

    • Thank you, Michelle. I think my two favorites are the one you mentioned of Eagle Peak and the one from the top of Half Dome, looking east over the valley. I like them because both capture two of my first experiences standing at such dizzying heights, and I think I’ve spent most of my life since then trying to reproduce the adrenaline rush I felt in each case.

      Paragliding… YES! I would do that in a heart beat. I would also like to do that newer kind of gliding you see where people wear suits with fins or membranes on them so that it’s as if they were actually flying.

  4. I’ve had both experiences and really, falling in love with a place is much easier on the heart!!! You have expressed it perfectly and brought a wistful smile to my lips… Wading in the Merced is my idea of paradise 🙂

    • Haha, yes, I think you’re absolutely right. It is easier on your heart to fall in love with a place. The place will never betray you, certainly not in any deliberate way 🙂

      I used to lie down in the Merced so that it flowed over about half of my body… I would do that before and after work at any time of day. I liked to read books on the bank of the river, in a spot where even during the busy summer tourist season few people ventured.

  5. pattisj says:

    How could you not fall in love with this place? Maybe you don’t want the distraction of sharing this with someone else until you’ve absorbed its beauty into your soul?

  6. Breath taking photos. Makes me want to throw my toothbrush in my car and drive there today!

  7. Fantastic! I’ve never been, but you certainly make the case to do so!

  8. Pingback: Falling in Love with Mountains, Pebbles, and Waterfalls: Our … | pakiresalep

  9. Amazing photos……

    I want to take an adventure now


  10. The Urchins says:

    I’m not sure that there’s anything abnormal about falling in love with a place – it just seems as though it is more difficult for people to express this sort of feeling rather than what they experience with another person. Not for you, it seems! I would like to think that everyone experiences this form of deep connection with landscape… the way the desert cools at sunset, or the afternoon sun glows on the prairies. At least I hope this isn’t such a unique feeling!

    • You make a good point: for a lot of people it may just be hard to articulate their affection for a place. I think most of us feel this sort of love for where we grew up (or where we experienced something formative). I so share your love of deserts and prairies, in particular those moments you described.

  11. diana1604 says:

    Beautifully written. But for all these romantic notions, you probably know the painful realism about human relationships. Love brings as much pain as happiness. Maybe emotional wisdom is accepting it as part of how the world works. *shrugs*

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