On cold spring nights, halos of translucent ice freeze around smooth mid-stream boulders. As the sun rises, the circles of ice start to melt, but not before a cross-country skier crouches streamside to admire their clear fragile shards. In an hour the ice halos are gone.
For all of the Sierra Nevada’s enduring grandeur — the granite formations, the high mountain meadows, the shimmering lakes — there are as many small and fleeting pleasures. Being in solitude, being quiet, being at ease in a natural setting — in all of these situations a person can see, feel, and hear things they’ve never known before. When Theodore Roosevelt visited the park in 1903, he heralded the joys of nature, exclaiming, “This has been the grandest day of my life.” Roosevelt’s friend John Muir explained his own relationship with wildness this way: “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.”
In the Sierra Nevada, the magic of beauty is abundant: a hiker entering a shady creek-bed notices frail flowers that seem to float in the shadows like crimson stars; a motorist pausing at a viewpoint in Yosemite National Park is moved to tears by the panorama of Half Dome and Bridalveil Falls; in the predawn darkness an alert camper hears an owl’s haunting call; a kayaker paddling up to a white tufa tower for the first time touches it with her thumb and licks the strange, bitter salt from her skin. Memories of beauty live forever — and change lives.