Missing the forest through the trees

Randy Morgenson was an institution of the High Sierras.  He had dedicated his life to the Sierras and new them intimately.  He lived a charmed childhood in Yosemite, hanging out with Yosemite’s elite, including Ansel Adams, whom he accompanied on a few trips around the park as an assistant.  Later in life, he spent his summers, nearly thirty of them, as a seasonal backcountry ranger.  There is a story told of him that when a young kid went missing, he quickly glanced at a map and said the kid would be found in this meadow (he pointed it out) tomorrow morning.  The next morning a helicopter searching for the child flew over the meadow and the kid came running out of the trees.  Randy knew the land so well that he could tell how it would direct a person.  And that is why Randy Morgenson’s sudden disappearance was so strange and so startling.

Eric Blehm’s biography of Randy, The Last Season, traces Randy’s life and work, specifically focusing on Randy’s love of the Sierras and his efforts to preserve and protect them.  The Last Season is a love story to the Sierras, recounting their vastness, magnificence and beauty but never glossing over their powerful danger.  It is also a well written mystery that traces Randy’ disappearance.  Did he commit suicide?  Did he simply wander out of the mountains and into a new life?  Did he meet with a tragic end after a misstep in his playground of sheer cliffs?  Blehm’s words create a gripping story of intrigue, as well as hope, to the very end.

For any fan of the Sierras or Yosemite, this book is one that will thrill.  Yet, I was consistently disappointed with how little Randy Morgenson really understood.  He dedicated his life to the parks, and he worked tirelessly to clean them and preserve them.  He would then, with cynicism and bitterness, journal condemnations of people who entered them.  He became a radical in that he wanted the parks closed to all use.  He believed that the beauty of the mountains would be better off without any human activity and convinced that the beauty and majesty of the mountains should be left to the mountains alone.  Randy missed the greatest mystery of all: there is more to this world than nature, there is something behind it all and above it all.  There is a much grander power with a wonderful plan.

Randy wrote “I am suddenly close to something very great and very large, something containing me and all this around me, something I only dimly perceive and understand not at all.  Perhaps if I am here, aware, and perceptive, long enough I will.”  That something very great and very large that contained him and all of creation is God’s incredible, infinite glory.  And Randy missed it.  Surrounded by God’s creative work, he missed it.  I pray that you will not miss it too.

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