Reflections

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Autumn in Northern Virginia.  Huntley Meadows in Alexandria, Virginia.  In the middle of suburbia, the woods and wetlands remind you of the true beauty that nature brings.

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Dead Horse Point State Park

Moab, Utah.  How can one town in the Utah desert be so close to two of the most spectacular national parks in the United States – Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park.  And in between these two great parks, before entering Canyonlands, Island in the Sky, there is a small state park known as Dead Horse Point.  You can be forgiven for not noticing this state park as you drive down the road in the early morning, hoping to catch sunrise at Mesa Arch – a scene that is truly beautiful, truly iconic, widely photographed, widely admired.  Microsoft made Mesa Arch a household name, or at least a household scene, when it included a picture of sunrise at Mesa Arch in its collection of background images in Windows 7.  And I have to say, thank you, Microsoft, for bringing so much of the world’s beauty into our desktops – with the myriad of screensavers, background images, themes that you have available in your various operating systems.

And if you happen to make it down the road to Dead Horse Point State Park, especially before the sun rises (I should have done this) or as the sun sets, you will be treated to a truly spectacular view of the spectacular Utah landscape.  The sun was setting and the river bend scene was not lit well enough to do it justice.  A few yards to the left, however, turning eastward, where the sun’s dying light infuses the red Utah Rocks with a crimson hue, the rocks, the mountains, the desert and the sky conspire to remind all who see it that this is a planet of transcendent beauty and fragility.  We have touched the sky and now we must do our best to be responsible stewards for all below it.  And one look at Dead Horse Point shows us why.  This is not a view to be savored by one person once in a lifetime.  It is a place that makes repeated viewings a special occasion in itself, a place, like so many other places in our planet, that must endure for the generations to come.

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And then, Yosemite

When I was young, my parents used to take me along trips and vacations to see the wonderful places the world had to offer.  I remember driving to Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park for the first time.  My father was ecstatic looking at the mountains and the seemingly endless views of the valley below.  My mother was busy posing for photographs.  I was unmoved.  A typical teenager, I just wanted to stay home and do my own thing.

A few years later, my grandparents were visiting us in Virginia and they decided to visit their friends in rural southeastern Virginia.  If the barely two hour drive to the Shenandoah was long, the drive to Richlands, Virginia seemed like an eternity.  Mountains, hills, valleys all melded into a mosaic of interstates and highways, rural roadways, the occasional town.  It was a happy time for all – friendships rekindled, beautiful mountain air – with the exception of the grumpy teenager who just wanted to stay home.  And of course, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was only a “short” distance away.  So what to do?  Drive through more mountain roads, look at never ending forests, gaze upwards to look  at yet another mountain peak, and meet native Americans for the first time.  That part of the trip was actually interesting.  Clean mountain air, the fog that covered the mountains that made for spectacular sunrise and sunsets, the breezes that made the hot summer days bearable – I didn’t breathe, see or feel any of that.  I chose to ignore the beauty that was around me.  I just wanted to be home.

When my father bought me my first real camera, I started taking pictures of my friends.  Eventually, I started taking pictures of the monuments and landmarks that were so close to me.  Visit to the woods and parklands soon became a favored diversion.  I started to read about the great places to visit in the United States.  Shenandoah National Park.  The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Yosemite National Park.

I visited family and friends in San Francisco and they offered to drive me to Yosemite.  I was unprepared for what I saw.  I knew that the place was beautiful – who hasn’t seen the pictures of Yosemite taken by Ansel Adams and other great photographers.  I envisioned cliffs, mountains, streams.  Instead, I was treated to one of nature’s great cathedrals.  Yes, El Capitan, with its granite face was a sight to behold.  Half Dome, Yosemite Falls – they were indeed impressive. Still, they are but backdrops to the true beauty of Yosemite.  The life sustaining valley nestled within the great peaks of the Sierras.  The stone monuments, beautiful as they are, are the supporting cast to this place that the trees and animals call home.  Yosemite.  A monument for the ages.  A cathedral for the living.  A gift of magnificent beauty for all.