Ansel Adams (and Other Great Americans)


Ansel Adams was born on this date, Feb. 20, in 1902. Adams was a great American photographer, best known for his black-and-white photos of Yosemite and other natural monuments of the American West.

I used to have an Adams poster of the Grand Canyon in my office at home. After we moved, my wife couldn’t get the poster to fit where she wanted to hang it in the new house, so she took the poster out of the frame, trimmed off the boilerplate (“Ansel Adams – The Mural Project”) — and part of the photo as well — then reframed it.

I couldn’t help thinking that if Adams had wanted to crop his photos, he would have cropped them himself, instead of waiting for my wife to come along and do it for him.


I suppose my impressions of Yosemite, before I actually went there, came mostly from Adams’ photographs. Most places, if you’ve seen photographs, it’s as good as being there, sometimes better.

The beauty of Yosemite, however, is one of the few things that actually exceeded my expectations.

Another thing I remember about Yosemite: We were driving out of the park on an otherwise deserted mountain road, and my son, who was 3 or 4 at the time, needed a bathroom break. The shoulder wasn’t very wide, but wide enough that I could park off the road and still leave enough room for him to stand to the right of the vehicle and pee off the cliff.

I stayed in the car, in the driver’s seat, but I could see his head through the passenger-side window. His mom was out there too, kneeling down to assist, but below the level of the window, so I couldn’t see her at all.

Then all of a sudden, I saw his head disappear down below the window like he’d dropped through a trap door. I don’t think he’d ever peed outside before and he got so excited waving it around all over the place that he stepped off the cliff. Fortunately, his mom was holding on to him — or caught him as he went over, I’m still afraid to ask which.


Sixty years later

My sister was born on Feb. 20, 1962, Ansel Adams’ 60th birthday. This has turned out to be an event of almost no historical significance, even within our own family.

On the same day, John Glenn, later a United States Senator from the state of Ohio, became the first American to orbit the earth.

Glenn was 40 years old, two years younger than I am now. He was subsequently awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor by President John F. Kennedy.


The Congressional Space Medal of Honor is the highest civilian award that can be given to participants in the United States space program.

Twelve individuals have received the award: John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, Alan Shepard, Frank Borman, Pete Conrad, Gus Grissom (posthumously), John Young, Tom Stafford, Jim Lovell, Shannon Lucid, Roger Chaffee (posthumously) and Ed White (posthumously).

The Congressional Space Medal of Honor is not the same as the Congressional Medal of Honor, which is the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force which can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the Armed Services of the United States.

As I write this, 3,436 people have received the Medal of Honor, of whom only 150 are currently living.

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