June 23, 2011 18 Comments
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.
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.
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.
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.
For more national park photos, see the following recent posts: