Earlier this evening, my doodle for Yosemite went up. It is set to run through October 1st to celebrate the 123rd anniversary of the opening of Yosemite as a National Park.
Creating a doodle for Yosemite has been a longstanding item on the “Dream Doodle” checklist. Perhaps as long as the three-plus years I've been at Google… actually wait. Longer! When I was first approached by Google four years ago to become a full-time “doodler” they asked me to do an art test. Part of the test was to draw a famous landmark. Without hesitating, I chose Yosemite:
Yes…. that test piece is pret-ty rough to look at (they graciously asked me to draw a second landmark. I went with Santorini). But I think it’s good to show this sketch now because the rest of what I’m about to write here may also be a little freeform and messy. So please bear with me.
I guess my point is – Yosemite and I have always been close. Of course, I may be one out of four million annual visitors, but it's that easy for a place like Yosemite to give you that unique, once-in-a-lifetime sensation and you can't help but develop a bond with the place. Memories include family camping trips as a youngster, early rockclimbing days on Glacier Apron and the Five Open Books, and swinging 200 feet above the treetops on a rope swing anchored to El Capitan. Just last year, I attended my best friend’s wedding in the chapel right in the heart of the Valley... I guess you can say a lot of my Yosemite memories revolve around knot-tying. So when my boss asked me to draw a doodle for Yosemite with only a couple weeks to spare – not to mention I had just returned from two months of down-time due to a debilitating injury – I thought….
...Well, I’ll be honest, I thought it might not be a good idea! The recent fires in and around Yosemite have managed to destroy hundreds of square miles (though mostly contained, it continues to burn as of this writing). If doodles are all about bringing surprise, joy, and delight to our users, wouldn't it be better to wait for a less bummer of a period? As I’m seeing the doodle go live on U.S. homepages this evening, I’m also seeing Yosemite is once again in the news, as part of a potential mass closure of national parks threatened by a federal government shutdown.
So why do I think we should run with this doodle after all? Well, part of it is in the messaging behind the visuals.
I chose to go with embroidered patches similar to what you might see a park ranger or a backpacker wearing. I wanted a variety of patches that, when combined, created a sense of history, symbolic of the kinds of people that have made Yosemite – or national parks, or even state parks – a greater part of their lives. In return, they are the stewards of some of our greatest natural treasures. People like the National Park Service, park rangers, Search and Rescue medics, firefighters, and volunteers. Personal heroes like rockclimbing legend Lynn Hill (that climbing patch is her negotiating the great roof on The Nose!), or the aspirational hiker who decides to walk some or all 211 miles of the John Muir Trail. The patches include the next generation of stewards, little "Junior Rangers" or the Youth in Yosemite.
Of course, ultimately it does come down to being a somewhat personal piece. You see, this doodle is also a kind of "love note" to the park rangers who came to my rescue after I broke my neck on a mountain biking crash in Lake Tahoe over the summer (that debilitating injury I mentioned earlier). They huffed it for four miles on foot, carrying 35 pounds of emergency equipment until they found me at the bottom of the hill. Then they sat with me for three hours, taking turns letting me lean against them for support, and shielded me from the harsh sun and relentless insects, and kept me alert in conversation until more help and a helicopter arrived. They even called me a few days later to see if I was okay.
Part of me knows this is just part of the job. But the other part of me knows that being surrounded by nature in all its beauty tends to bring out the best in people, allowing us to overcome difficult challenges, natural or manmade. For that reason alone, I hope you’ll agree this doodle has a place on the homepage today.