Tagging Yosemite is theft, not art

Guerrilla artwork was left this summer on Yosemite’s Mist Trail.
Guerrilla artwork was left this summer on Yosemite’s Mist Trail. Modern Hiker

In the 10 million years since the Sierra Nevada heaved from the earth and the colossus that is now Yosemite National Park was created, the artifacts of many life forms have come and gone.

So it will be, no doubt, for the work of “CreepyTings,” the tagger whose graffiti appeared this summer along Yosemite’s Mist Trail.

Done in acrylic on a formerly pristine mountain, the stupid white head with the snake in its mouth is just one in a series of marks left, authorities believe, by a 21-year-old New York woman who apparently spent her summer vandalizing Western landmarks and posting pictures of her handiwork on Instagram and Tumblr.

The images, signed with her moniker, created a furor last week after they showed up on Reddit, the techie website. Appalled, Los Angeles blogger Casey Schreiner posted an assortment of screen grabs on his site, Modern Hiker.

And what an assortment: a woman’s head scrawled onto Telescope Peak in Death Valley. A blue-haired profile, like something from the back of a teenager’s notebook, overlooking the sapphire waters of Oregon’s Crater Lake.

A line drawing the size of a backpack on a Zion National Park outcropping. Photos of the woman taking a black magic marker to the stunning rock formations in Canyonlands National Park and crawling heedlessly over protected Native American pictographs in Joshua Tree National Monument.

In the long view, the vandalism, which has prompted a National Park Service investigation, might be viewed as just an extreme version of the graffiti that has shown up worldwide in breathtaking places for as long as those places have been accessible to humans.

To experience beauty is to yearn to possess it. Some see the Louvre’s Victoire de Samothrace and want to take its picture; some have to tamp down the urge to carve their initials onto its marble base.

And it is true that, as John Muir once wrote, “Nature is always lovely, invincible, glad, whatever is done and suffered by her creatures.” Yosemite, over the years, has outlasted all manner of human trespass, including a car dealership that once sold Cadillacs in Curry Village and 21st century shutterbugs buzzing the park with drone cameras. Any landscape that can survive the Rim fire can handle this.

Nonetheless, the Park Service should throw the book at CreepyTings when they find and arrest her. The great landscapes of the West are national treasures. They were preserved to inspire generations to come.

Drawing on them isn’t art. It’s theft. And it’s the worst sort of theft, because graffiti is an invasive species. One mark encourages the next, until the urge to claim turf ruins a whole vista.

If the stark grandeur of the West offers one gift for our ephemeral life form, it’s the gift of experiencing, for a moment, the presence of something bigger than humans.

Too bad CreepyTings didn’t feel big enough to look up from that rock while she was defacing a place that has been there for eons. The view from the Mist Trail offers a whole new perspective. One might even call it art.