Friday, January 02, 2015

The Ghosts of Yosemite Valley

Tonight we are staying at the Ahwahnee Hotel, a posh 1920s-era spread smack in the middle of Yosemite National Park.

The Ahwahnee Hotel is named after the Ahwahneechee Indian tribe that used to live in the Yosemite Valley until they were killed or driven out, beginning in 1850.

The land they used to live and hunt on became a national park by order of President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906.

When the Scottish immigrant John Muir arrived in the Yosemite Valley, he described it as “pure wildness” where “no mark of man is visible upon it.”

If that appeared to be the case, it was only because Muir did not understand what he was seeing.

The manicured lands that Muir loved so much were not a product of wild nature, but of controlled fires set by native hands.

Without native Americans to set brush-clearing fires, the meadows and open forests that John Muir admired began to grow crowded with trees and brush, and wildlife began to decline.

The over-crowded landscape created by fire suppression is still with us today. As Scientific American notes:
After a century of fire suppression in the Yosemite Valley biodiversity had actually declined, trees were now 20 percent smaller, and the forest was more vulnerable to catastrophic fires than it had been before the U.S. Army and armed vigilantes expelled the native population.
Slow we learn, and quick we forget. But will a balance be restored? No doubt, but slowly, slowly.

As for the Ahwahneechee, their remaining descendants are now part of the Paiute tribe in eastern California -- a people treated as ghosts even when they are among the living.

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