The Cleanest Line


Photo: Ron Kauk
El Capitan peaks out of the trees. Photo: Ron Kauk

Shutting Down or Opening Up? Reflections from Yosemite on the 16-day Government Shutdown

By Ron Kauk   |   Oct 30, 2013 October 30, 2013

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I stood in wonder during a walk through the valley, at day 10 or something, as the exaggerated drama played out once again in this microcosm of America – a seven-mile long, mile-and-a-half wide sacred place on earth. It was as if the place could hear itself think, or simply just talk the real language of thousands of years between trees, plants, animals, rivers and rocks.

Above: El Capitan peaks out of the trees. All of the photos in this story were taken by Ron Kauk (himself a Yosemite resident) while the park was closed to the public during the government shutdown.

I was in awe of this feeling, the power of such a place that hosts over 4 million people a year. At the end of every summer, I feel as though it’s becoming harder and harder for the valley to absorb the impact of human stress and disconnect.

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The Merced River flowing through Yosemite Valley. Photo: Ron Kauk

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An empty trail near Fern Spring. Photo: Ron Kauk


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Changing leaves in El Cap meadow. Photo: Ron Kauk

More than not, Yosemite has become a big attraction, a place to entertain ourselves while flying down the highways that flow through the so-called park. Amazing amounts of wildlife are run down by cars here, sometimes 18 bears or more a year. We buy bottled water while enjoying the beauty of the waterfalls. Thousands of cigarette butts, each one a human calling card, litter the ground.

These thoughts rolled through my head while standing in complete quiet – the harmony of nature’s way returning with its song that nurtures the spirit back into balance.

What I’ve learned climbing and simply being here is to look for the signs. Nature is always saying something. The shutdown was loud and clear. We are not in control of anything. The flow of life will continue no matter how
confused we humans get. No matter how much we fight over money or resources, the earth will continue. The big question is whether we’ll reconnect and respect this reality, find our own humility, and take more responsibility as the only ones who’ve lost their way.

Ron Kauk has been living in and around Yosemite National Park for over 30 years. In 2009, Ron and Stanford University professor, Kenji Hakuta, created Sacred Rok, a small non-profit organization dedicated to helping young people learn how to respect nature, and through that, respect themselves.

Ron’s second book, Letters from Sacred Rok – Education Nature’s Way, is now available from Sacredrok.org and Patagonia.com.

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