Matt Niswonger
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A Conversation in Yosemite

Editor’s Note by Matt Niswonger

I had an insight recently while hiking in Yosemite. We were there for my daughter’s school band recital. After the concert, we all got to hike the world famous Mist Trail to the top of Vernal Falls.

Step by step we worked our way up the steep trail and into the driving mist until the roar of the waterfall made conversation impossible. Soon the mist was so thick we couldn’t even see very well. All I could hear was my own breathing and the crashing water. As I continued walking and breathing I began to think about Jesus. I have no idea why he popped in my head; my mind was just wandering. No particular religion or spiritual path is better than any other to me, but ever since my early twenties I’ve felt a certain connection with Jesus as a divine presence.

As the trail got steeper, Vernal Falls came into view and I paused for a second to admire the sheer volume of water crashing down. I wondered what would happen if Jesus suddenly appeared in present-day Yosemite. Even though it seems ridiculous as I write these words, I clearly imagined he was hiking right next to me and we had a deep conversation.

Rainbow at the base of Vernal Falls.

I asked if he was here to rebuild the Christian Church. “Nope,” he said. “I’m not interested in any particular religious viewpoint right now. I’m not here to prove anyone right or wrong, I’m just here to save nature.”

“So you are an environmentalist,” I said. “Nope, the environmentalists are just another group being right about something,” Green Jesus said. “Anyone who comes from a perspective of being right is making other people wrong. I’m not here to make people wrong, I’m just here to save nature,” he said firmly.

As we hiked, I looked over at his face and realized that “he” was quite possibly a “she.” I also realized that she was no particular race. “I am all genders and all races,” she explained. “I’m not here to promote any particular group.”

By now the waterfall was thundering down the gorge with such power I could feel the vibration in my chest. The spray was so thick it drifted upward like smoke, with a large rainbow appearing in the mist. We paused and Green Jesus took out her iPhone and snapped a few pictures. “How are you going to save nature?” I asked.

“By seeking awe,” she said, “And inspiring others to do the same.” Turning around she faced me and looked me straight in the eyes. His face was wet from the mist, but it also looked like he was crying. “Only awe matters right now,” she said. “Stop arguing with people about climate change, religion, politics, and everything else. Devote your life to seeking awe in nature and inspiring others to do the same. That’s how we save nature, not by being right about things and making other people feel wrong. Every article you publish in ASJ should inspire people to go outside and seek awe. Nothing else matters right now.”

I couldn’t help but ask, “Have you heard of our slogan, ‘earn your beer’?” “Yes I love that slogan.” Green Jesusreplied.  “Seek awe first and all good things in life are yours to enjoy. Earn your beer.”

Breathing hard, we stared at each other for a second. We were getting wet and it was time to move. “One more thing,” she said. “Quit saying the word ‘awesome’ all the time, it’s lost all meaning. Only say it when you really mean it. Awe is not something to be taken lightly; it’s how we connect with nature. If there is too little awe in the world, nature dies. Legitimate awesomeness is more valuable than gold.” With that he turned and slipped into the crowd, disappearing from my view.

Even though this entire conversation happened in my mind, it shook me to my core. My insight was that environmental facts are important, but the real problem is we have lost touch with awe. Nature is a concept now, not something we cherish. Once humans reconnect to their sense of natural awe, our place within nature will be restored organically, and without all the divisiveness.

What do you think? Have you ever had a crazy realization while hiking that’s hard to explain but still really moves you? Do you feel the divine in nature? Or is the whole concept of “speaking” to a divine presence just weird? Feel free to send me an email because I want to hear from you. We read and treasure every email we get from readers. My email address is

Words and photos by Matt Niswonger

The author after his encounter with Green Jesus.