Lost and Found

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When Carol Arnold needs to get lost and restore her sense of proportion, she goes to a place where the landscape is both beautiful and awe-inspiring.

As often as I can, I take a road trip from San Francisco over the Sierra Mountains down into the desert country on the other side. Such a trip is often motivated by a desire to forget my own and the world’s problems; in a sense, to get lost.

On the western side of the range, the drive up the long, forested slope is slow and gentle. But as soon as one hits the Sierra crest and starts the relatively brief decline, the road becomes steep and precipitous. The views are spectacular — the deep granite canyons of the mountains, the shimmering golds of the desert, and the baby blues of Mono Lake topped by endless sky.

The Sierras were created by battling tectonic plates but it is only when I reach the eastern side that I can really contemplate such a struggle. From the desert floor below, the mountains appear to rise like brutish teeth bursting forth to gnaw on California’s backbone. The plates really show their stuff here, giant earthmovers that when ready to blow show no patience for anything getting in their way. Battling it out, these subterranean masses of rock and fire used earthquakes and volcanos to fight for influence.

I possess nothing so effective to get my way as these dramatic forces, but they seem familiar nonetheless. Sitting fuming in San Francisco traffic or at home watching the TV news, I often become my own version of fracturing earthquakes and erupting volcanos.


It is at these times when I long to let go of striving altogether, to drop the need to effect outcomes. A trip to the eastern Sierras offers tantalizing opportunities to do just that. Viewing the mountains from the desert country below, I feel my ego shrink in direct proportion to the immensity of the landscape and the forces that created it. The thing called “I” starts to disappear, replaced by a much humbler, yet at the same time vastly expanded, view of the world.

Once again, I become gratefully lost.

With a Perspective, I’m Carol Arnold.

Carol Arnold is a retired environmental planner. She lives in San Francisco.