Getting Away

“Scenery without solace is meaningless.” – Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven

Can you think of a time in your life when you experienced some kind of epiphany? Most of mine seem to happen when I’m the road somewhere, traveling to or standing in front of some beautiful scenery. Travel destinations are tangible goals, and there are so many of them in my mind that it can be a transformative experience to finally stand there seeing a place with my own eyes.

It wasn’t until I stood at the Marin Highlands looking down on the Golden Gate that I realized I’d always dreamt of standing at that place, for as long as I could remember. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized I’d always been holding someone’s hand in that dream. There was no hand to hold that day, so I got to stand there and learn the bittersweet feeling of a dream only half-realized, but it’s a moment I’ll remember forever.

A big moment for me came on another trip to California. Finding myself with a free day on my schedule, I left San Francisco at 4am on two hours of sleep to drive east across the state. I crossed most of California’s central valley in darkness until the sun rose in front of me over the Sierra’s. I wound my way up into the hills along the Merced river, on my way to Yosemite National Park. I’d seen the park from the air once, on my first flight into San Francisco. It was impressive enough from miles in the air that it made my list of travel destinations. I’d seen pictures and read about the place, and now with just a twelve hours free, I wanted to see it with my own eyes.

I was completely unprepared for what I saw. I turned a corner and saw El Capitan in front of me. Well, I saw a rock wall. It must have been at least a half-mile away, and I still had to lean forward in the car to be able to see the top of it. Other than a “holy shit!” exclaimed to nobody, it left me speechless. No pictures or stories can do justice to the beauty of that place.

Something changed in me that day. I only spent four hours in the park before I had to start heading back to San Francisco. They are four of the happiest hours of my life. Definitely the happiest ones I’ve spent alone. Something about the place touched my soul in a way that few things ever have. It’s like the first time you truly experience love; it’s beautiful by itself, but it opens your world up to possibilities you never knew existed. Some part of me, deep down inside, will always be happy just for the few hours I got to spend in Yosemite Valley.

Rob at Yosemite Valley

It’s too bad we can’t have experiences like that whenever we want to. I could use one around now. 2009 was challenging. 2010 more so, and it doesn’t look to be getting better anytime soon. I can’t make it to Yosemite Valley right now, but I don’t have to go to California to find beauty.

I’ll be off soon for a few days in the Everglades. Florida swamps aren’t nearly as dramatic as the towering granite walls and waterfalls of Yosemite. It’s the hardships of the swamp that are more dramatic, with the sometimes oppressive climate and the fact that most living things there look at you as a source of food. The beauty is more subtle, and you need to slow down and look carefully in order to see it.

Clyde Butcher, who is probably Florida’s most famous nature photographer, knows how to unlock that beauty on film. I don’t. I’ll be there with a camera, but I’ll be happy just to find some measure of peace that I can usually gain from natural places.

Clyde retreated into the Everglades many years ago after his son was killed by a drunk driver. He went there to find solace and restoration. He came out with beautiful pictures, but I don’t know if he found the solace he was looking for. Maybe one day I’ll get to ask him. Maybe one day I’ll find the answer myself.

– R

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