Nature's wonder

Giant sequoias in Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park

My family seized a rare, uncommitted weekend and went for the first time to Yosemite National Park. All superlatives that have been lavished on this extraordinary wonder pale beside the reality, particularly in the crisp air of early winter, with none of the crowds that apparently descend on the park in the summer.

We were hugely fortunate on our arrival on Saturday to have beautiful weather. It extended through to mid-afternoon on Sunday, when the first snowfall of the year began to come down, and come down hard.

My highlight? First thing Sunday we went to Mariposa Grove and walked up in near-isolation to the two main groves of giant sequoias. The sight of El Capitan and Half Dome in Yosemite Valley was awe-inspiring, but the quiet walk in the company of the world’s largest living things was a truly magical moment.

Serendipitously, I’m reading two nature-obsessed books. I started Underwater to Get Out of the Rain before we went to Yosemite. In my youth I wanted to be an oceanographer, so Trevor Norton’s warm, funny and revealing memoir of his life as a marine biologist strikes a personal chord. (I turned away from the oceans after a few years of obsession when Jacques Cousteau didn’t respond to my fifth-grade letter requesting more information about his submersible Calypso. I turned starward instead, and went to Princeton partly because of its great astrophysics department. I abandoned thoughts of a life in astronomy early in my university career.)

In a bookshop in Yosemite, I picked up Simon Barnes’s How to Be a Bad Birdwatcher. I almost read it in one gulp last night as the snow fell thickly around our hotel. I can confess to being a truly bad birdwatcher, but now having read Barnes, I am determined to become better at being bad.

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