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Out West student blog

A Temple Grander Than Any Human Architect Could Possibly Build

Landscape shot of Tuolomne Meadows in Yosemite.
An afternoon thunderstorm in Tuolumne Meadows foretells the end of summer and the arrival of fall.

By Emilia Schrier
B.A., English, 2016
Archives and Records Management Intern at Yosemite National Park

On August 25, 2016, Yosemite National Park staff and volunteers gathered in a shady corner of a beautiful meadow to celebrate the birth and continued success of the National Park System. It was the perfect time to reflect—Superintendent Dan Neubacher acknowledged NPS failings of the past, and lauded current efforts to right those wrongs (like the current Mariposa Grove Restoration Project). I, too, took some time to think about my impact on the park, and of course, its impact on me.

Humans have certainly changed Yosemite, and not just the millions of visitors that come every year. The effects of climate change are readily visible in the park—Yosemite Falls, which were gushing with water when I first arrived, now stand completely dry, and have for a few weeks. I’m still not accustomed to the view of the seemingly naked stained rock. Lyell Glacier, larger than 10 million square feet, has lost 90% of its volume in the last 100 years. And if I ever need a reminder that every individual contributes to that larger impact, I just think about the fact that last week Yosemite had its one millionth car in 2016 enter the park—and there are still four months left in the year! (Makes it just a little easier to wake up early to take the bus instead of drive…but only a little).

But all those humans entering the park in a million cars also remind me that working for the NPS is such a gift, because I get to work for a cause that I truly love. Every day, I am working to protect and share the most wonderful place I’ve ever seen in my entire life—and hopefully inspiring others to protect it as well. I can’t think of anything better than getting to be a part of a cause so great, and so good.

Equally great, however, is the way this place shapes and influences humans. In thinking about the impact that Yosemite has had on me, I’m drawn to two quotes that seem to bookend my summer. In his speech on June 18th, the same weekend I arrived for my internship, President Obama said, “There’s something sacred about this place. And I suppose that’s why the walls of this valley were referred to as cathedral walls – because here at Yosemite, we connect not just with our own spirit, but with something greater.” And at the Centennial celebration, which marks the end my 10 weeks, Superintendent Neubacher echoed Obama’s comments on the spirit of this place by quoting Theodore Roosevelt, who called Yosemite “a temple grander than any human architect could possibly build.”

So how has this cathedral of nature shaped me? Workwise, I’ve certainly learned many new practical skills—because the Yosemite Archive has a relatively small staff, everyone does every task. I’ve learned how to fulfill research requests, how to upload finding aids to the Online Archive of California, how to rehydrate and flatten old maps…and perhaps more importantly, I’ve learned that archival work is definitely something I like to do.

And I’ve learned quite a bit about myself as well. Before leaving for Yosemite, my biggest concern was that my fear would keep me from meeting new people, from hiking and backpacking new trails, from pushing myself beyond my comfort zone. Happily, however, I now know that I will, in fact, take advantage of opportunities in front of me, and it’s quite a happy realization.

There are also some things I didn’t learn. I set out this summer hoping to learn everything about Yosemite, to mine the park for all its hidden secrets and somehow, through that process, make it my own. I am so glad to say that I failed—and I hope I continue to fail, no matter how many months I spend in the park. May Yosemite always hold some mystery for me; I hope its spiritual presence draws me back to those granite cathedral walls for the rest of my life.

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