Posted tagged ‘Nature writing’

Program Notes: NY Times/Ansel Adams edition

April 29, 2008

The Gray Lady of 43rd St. (no more!) has posted a nice taste of Ansel Adams’ Yosemite photos.  The commentary comes from one of Adams’ assistants, but it’s the photos that carry the day.

This isn’t exactly science, I’ll admit — but I’m with John Muir on this one.  It’s worth being reminded of the wellsprings of scientific imagination.  Here’s Muir  on an afternoon storm in the valley:

About noon, as usual, big bossy cumuli began to grow above the forest, and the rainstorm pouring from them is the most imposing I have yet seen.  The silvery zigzag lightning lances are longer than usual, and the thunder gloriously impressive, keen, crashing, intensely concentrated, speaking with such tremendous energy it would seem an entire mountain is being shattered at every stroke, but probably only a few trees are being shattered, many of which I have seen on my walks hereabouts strewing the ground.  At last the clear ringing strokes are succeeded by deep low tones that grow gradually fainter as they roll afar into the recesses of the echoing mountains, where they seem to be welcomed home.  Then another and another peal, or rather crashing splintering stroke, follows in quick succession, perchance splitting some giant pine or fir from top to bottom into long rails and slivers, and scattering them to all points of the compass. Now comes the rain, with corresponding extravagant grandeur, covering the ground high and low with a sheet of flowing water, a transparent film fitted like a skin upon the rugged anatomy of the landscape, making the rocks glitter and glow, gathering in the ravines, flooding the streams, and making them shout and oom in reply to the thunder.

How interesting to trace the history of a single raindrop!  It is not long, geologically speaking, as we have seen, since the first raindrops fell on teh newborn leafless Sierra landscape.  How different the lot of these falling now!…(Italics added)

(John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra, Houghton Mifflin, 1979, pp. 124-126)

Muir was no scientist.  A great naturalist, a founding environmentalist, a passionate advocate, but not a scientist.  But I read in him the joy in nature that makes me, at least remember why scientific discovery does more than please my curiousity; following Muir, the recognition of order within beauty moves me too.

Ansel Adams’ photgraphs say it better.  Enjoy.

Image:  Ansel Adams “The Tetons and the Snake River,” 1942 Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the National Park Service. (79-AAG-1)  Not one of the Yosemite images, of course, but it is one of the great ones nonetheless.  Source:  Wikimedia Commons.

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