Eliza Earle | Adventure Photography and Film


The Healing Valley

Originally posted on November 14, 2018

It was night when I arrived. My mind was wired and wandering as I zigzagged through the darkness of Tuolumne meadows. I didn’t know what to expect and felt as though I could be embarking on either a month of hardship or a month of new beginnings. I heard the concern in my friend’s voices replaying in my mind and I kept asking myself what I was doing. Before I knew it, I had pulled into camp 4 and pitched my tent.

I felt numb as I lay there in the dark. Expectations and visions of the coming weeks played in the background of my mind. The memories of last fall grew stronger and my concern for how painful this month might be began to develop. I only knew one person in the valley. I had no plans. I thought about all the climbs, all the hikes, all the exploring I wanted to do, and perhaps didn’t want to do. Despite the creaking of bear boxes and snoring of newfound neighbors, I finally drifted asleep. And so began my month and a half in the healing valley.


During the first few days, my mornings began with uncertainty. While everyone around me had climbing partners lined up, I would make a cup of coffee, hesitant about what the day would bring. But there was also excitement for the endless opportunities for that day. Where to explore? Who would I meet? The valley felt so vast and yet so accessible. I felt curious again. I felt excited for the future, even if my future only consisted of the next twelve hours.

But still, it was unnerving to feel excited in a place that still represented so much sadness. I found myself on edge, trying to find harmony between tragedy and hope. Enormous landmarks filled with memories from last fall stared down at me every day, threatening the small flame of hope I was beginning to feel. Finding the balance would be key, so I mentally prepared for a trying month in which I would hopefully find some peace of mind.

Throughout my time in the valley, I would find myself wandering around the trails on my bike or laying in the vast meadows staring up at a canopy of granite. I had nowhere to be and was responsible for no one but myself. And though that may seem like a lonely place to be, I found it liberating and discovered a peacefulness I hadn’t felt in a long time. How powerful is nature’s ability to nurture? Yosemite is so awe-inspiring and nature is writ on such a vast scale, you’re instantly shocked into a sublime sense of place. The constant chatter of my mind receded in the onslaught of beauty and I was left with a wellspring of contentment that bubbled forth. Over the next few weeks, the act of simple observation was constantly present, freeing my mind from a previous place of anxiety and leaving me to experience my days with an overwhelming sense of freedom.

This openness to experience a new life also lead me to a community of individuals with a similar enthusiasm for beauty and adventure in the outdoors. What struck me was their contentment for having no real plan and being able to sustain a lifestyle that put quality of life first. For years, I had met these kinds people on my weekend trips and envied their ability to step away from the pressures of society and live on the road. Some call them dirtbags, and maybe they are, but they navigate through life with a purpose stronger than most of the people I know – a purpose that isn’t driven by money or success, but driven by the pursuit of happiness. And what I’ve found is that those who put more emphasis on quality of life will inevitably find a way to sustain that life, and not because the money is abundant, but because they’re happier to try harder to make it work.

Over the last month and a half, the valley became my home. Not only did I climb across its granite walls and explore the multitude of trails by foot and bike, but I became familiar with the inner workings of the park and settled into a routine that felt more comfortable than anything I had experienced in years. And yet, I didn’t have a home. I slept in tents, in hammocks, in my car, and even nabbed a bed in a luxurious cabin for the last few weeks of my stay. But the feeling of “home” was ever present, nestled within the big walls that surrounded me and through the community of people I lived with. It sounds silly, but there truly is an energy about this place that calms the soul and delivers a new sense of youth. The healing valley took me in and replenished my mind in ways I never could’ve imagined.

My experiences in Yosemite gave me a new perspective and outlook on life. It begs you to recognize the true meaning of beauty and emotional wealth. For the first time in a long time I feel excited about the future. I see opportunity and feel optimistic. I feel this forward momentum in regards to my photography and my internal drive. I don’t have a plan but I have confidence that life will play out as long as I allow it to do so. With a society that is quickly losing its creative spirit in exchange for abundance and convenience, it seems more vital than ever to bask in this irreverent lifestyle with a camera in hand, juxtaposing modesty before nature and the quest for a deeper importance in what it means to be alive.  It involves living with the past but finding meaning in my future with a willingness to accept any and all experiences that will continue to come my way.

Eliza Earle