Year in Yosemite: The Inspiration
"I know that I am one with beauty and that my comrades are one. Let our souls be mountains, Let our spirits be stars, Let our hearts be worlds."
-- Gaelic saying/Adams's favorite
We moved to Yosemite National Park three years ago because of Ansel Adams. And, spectacular as they are, it wasn't his photographs that hooked us. It was his early life. Like so many people who went on to change our world -- Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, Walt Disney, Richard Branson, Charles Dickens -- he never finished school. Some of these people dropped out for economic reasons. Some, like Branson, were lousy students. And some, like Adams, Einstein and Edison, got kicked out and were asked to never come back. Too distracted, too dreamy and too inattentive, they proved a trial and tribulation for their teachers.
In Ansel Adams's case, he got lucky. After multiple schools had asked him to leave, his parents decided to home school him. When they discovered that nature calmed their high- energy, fidgety son they let nature become his greatest teacher.
In 1916, Adams and his family traveled to Yosemite. His father gave him a Kodak Brownie camera so he could record the scenery. But Adams, who had begun to play the piano at the age of 12, saw his future as a classical pianist. He was interested in photography but not yet obsessed with it.
Then fate intervened. When Adams failed to fully recover from the flu during the epidemic of 1918, his parents sent him to Yosemite, thinking the fresh air would do him good. It did far more than that. Yosemite was the making of Ansel Adams. Hiking its high country, camera in hand, he began to see wilderness as essential to man’s happiness. When he realized that his piano playing was not quite good enough to lead to a career as a classical pianist, he decided to devote himself to his photography. (By that time he’d also married Virginia Best whose parents owned the photography shop, now the Ansel Adams Gallery, in Yosemite Valley).
During the Depression, photographers like Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans used their art to expose the underbelly of poverty in America. Adams chose a different tack. Like Jessie Benton Fremont, Frederick Law Olmstead, Galen Clark and John Muir, time spent in Yosemite and the Sierras led Ansel Adams to the conclusion that the preservation of wilderness was as essential to man's health as food. "I believe in beauty. I believe in stones and water, air and soil, people and their future and their fate," he said.
It was in hopes of providing the best possible future for our daughter that we moved to Yosemite. Like Adams, she was fidgety and uninspired by school. After reading about Ansel Adam’s early years, I was hoping that a life lived in nature would do for her what it did for him. This is not to say that I expect her to become a world-famous photographer, although she seems to know her way around a camera.
No, my wish for her, and for all people, is that they discover their great passion in life and have the guts and the gumption to pursue it. My experience of living in Yosemite is that when nature surrounds you, when quiet and solitude is the order of the day, it is easier to hear one's deep internal voices. Then, hopefully, as in Adams's favorite saying, it is possible to be one with beauty and let one’s heart be the world.
-- Jamie Simons / Top image: courtesy Cedric Wright/Sierra Club Archives. Bottom image: Karis Simons.