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Whispers and Fingerprints

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I had been telling my roommate for months about the wonders of Yosemite Valley. Off and on we talked about a group of guys doing a camping trip to the Valley so that my roommate from the East Coast could take in a bit of our magnificent Western scenery, after all he had been so excited about going for a swim in the Pacific. I was sure he would be impressed. Time passed and the opportunity finally presented itself. The plan was to leave LA at midnight, drive through the night and arrive at Yosemite Valley as the sun was coming up. It was summer, the days were long. We left the LA area as discussed at midnight and arrived at Tunnel View for the early morning light. We spent our day hiking, planning to camp that night and return the next day. By early afternoon my roommate informed us that he’d seen enough and was ready to head back to LA now. He couldn’t figure out what all the talk had been about. It was then that my roommate shared that Yosemite Valley was “just a bunch of rocks”!

An entirely different thought process takes place within me when I venture into the wild, whether it be Yosemite Valley, Death Valley or simply a nearby hillside covered with wildflowers in springtime.

A few years ago, I made a spring trip to Joshua Tree National Park. It had been a wet spring in California so I was expecting to see some of our famous desert wildflowers. The gorgeous display of shapes and colors I encountered far exceeded my expectations. It was amazing! The variety of shapes and colors and sizes was incredible. I found intense, dark blue flowers, five-petaled rich magenta flowers with white hearts, pumpkin orange colored flowers buzzing with bees and brilliant red blooms on the strange funnel shaped ocotillo bushes. The ocotillo flowers were arranged in a way that reminded me of a sparkler for the Fourth of July. There were creamy white, six-petaled yucca blooms and lime green colored flowers on the cholla cactus. The petals of these flowers looked like torn tissue paper. The flowers of the beaver tail cactus were a fluorescent shade of pink that seemed to glow after the sun set. This is just a small sampling of what I encountered hiking across the open desert. I’ve also viewed some of the world’s greatest and most famous works of art at places like the Norton Simon museum in Pasadena, the Getty Museum in Los Angeles and the Huntington Library in San Marino. The artist who created these works labored passionately to create masterpieces that have stood the test of time and dazzled people for centuries. When I look at a great work of art, I enjoy it, and then I start thinking about the person who created that work of art. Who were they? What motivated them? What else did they create? These same thoughts ran through my mind walking across the carpet of spring wildflowers in the desert.

Some of the most impressive statues I’ve ever seen are in the city of Budapest, Hungary. Walking the streets of this historic queen of the Danube on a summer afternoon is such a pleasure. Everywhere one looks there are magnificent works of architecture and art. There are statues, statues, statues, everywhere exquisite statues. I remember stately lions guarding one of the seven bridges that crosses the Danube, poets and statesmen, and warriors remembered in bronze and stone along the elegant riverside walkway. And then there’s the majestic work of Hero’s Square displayed on skillfully carved pillars and stands of granite. All of these works together, however, cannot compare with the stone work of Yosemite Valley. Visiting the Valley for the first time as a teen was an experience I’ll never forget. The sheer size of El Capitan left me mesmerized. I stared in disbelief at this glorious monolith of stone. The shape and positioning of Half Dome at the far end of the Valley is a display of rugged perfection. Taft Point and Sentinel Dome rest in quiet majesty across from the dizzying drop of Yosemite Falls. I could go on and on about the incredible chiseled and carved scenery of Yosemite Valley. It’s no wonder that John Muir called this place the “grandest of all the special temples of nature.” I see the Sierra Nevada as hundreds of miles of some of the most majestic stone work on Earth, and I wonder. I wonder about the sculptor who seems to be whispering through the stones.

Growing up in Los Angeles I had the experience as a child of visiting the Griffith Park Observatory in the hills above the city. From the outdoor observation deck of the Observatory there is a sweeping view of the city, and at night this view is marvelous. Thousands upon thousands of lights brighten the night sky, and one can make out the city streets with long strings of lights all in lines stretching across the city. This spectacle, however, interferes with the viewing of a far grander and more glorious phenomenon of the night, a star filled sky on a moonless night. A family trip to Palm Springs, also when I was a child, was my first ever experience of seeing the night sky away from the lights of the city. I remember gazing in wonderment, surprise and astonishment into the night sky above me. It was filled with seemingly endless stars and the Milky Way that stretched in a soft glow across the heavens above. There above me were the constellations I’d learned about at school. Where had all this been all my life? Why had I never seen it before? Was it even real? Over the years, I’ve looked into the star filled night sky many times from beyond the lights of the city. What a marvel it is! One night in the Sierras, I saw seven shooting stars streak past in about five minutes time, spectacular! On another occasion, this time on a moonless night in Death Valley, the starlight was so bright that no flashlight was needed around our campsite. The delightful pattern of lights across the city of Los Angeles at night is there by design. The lights were not haphazardly placed or arranged the way they are. They have been deliberately placed where they are for a purpose, the benefit of the residents of the city. When I look into the star filled, inky black night sky I see fingerprints. The fingerprints tell me, this is no accident. All of this was placed with purpose, to cause the human mind to wonder and to question. To wonder, how and where all this came from . . . to wonder about big ideas like infinity and eternity . . . to wonder about God and to ponder our very existence.

Just a bunch of rocks; just a bunch of flowers, just a bunch of lights in the night sky. My mind won’t go there. So, where do my thoughts go when I behold these wonders? Some of the early pioneers of modern science, like Francis Bacon and Isaac Newton, believed that God had written two books for humanity to study, Scripture and Nature. When I turn my camera lens on a mountain peak or a sunset or a great vista, I’m trying to capture a bit of that artistry God placed all around us to point us to Himself. I’m hoping to share with others through my photographs, a bit of the beauty of the most talented artist, the most skilled sculptor and the greatest of all designers, God.