To work in the archive is to worship measurement. Temperatures, air humidity, square footage of mylar, length of housing life, length of file life, time since accession of material, time since cataloging of material, time required to digitize material.
The Yosemite archive is funded with government budgets that demand the accounting of all time. Four days a week, we arrived at seven in the morning and left at six at night, with one half-hour and two fifteen-minute breaks throughout the day.
No time is out of place.
Time is regulated as closely as the material being processed. I became a hobby taxonomist of systems of time and material regulation in the archive and throughout the park.
At the time, I had almost no exposure to systems theory or cybernetics. But I began to see systems overlaid on top of one another and abstracted. Traffic design, hiking trails, climbing routes. Landslide probability, dam management, controlled burns.
One of the most fascinating things about Yosemite is how its systems reflect the history that it tells about itself. The park's place in the American imaginary means that its management is arguably as concerned with the preservation of the Yosemite ideal as it is with the ecological health of the park.
Certain areas of foliage are trimmed to preserve historic viewpoints. Trees are chopped down in the grassy plains of the Yosemite Valley. The Valley is not maintained to reflect any pre- or post-human wilderness, but rather, the exact state that it was in when white men saw it for the first time. It had been farmed and control burned by the Ahwahneechee for thousands of years.
The Yosemite Archive holds almost no evidence of the pre-Park existence of the Yosemite Valley. It houses photographs, paintings, and thousands of pages of bureaucratic records, all post-1864. Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant that summer, almost exactly one year before the end of the American Civil War.
I went to a Civil War re-enactment in the western Sierra Nevada foothills. Abraham Lincoln was there in a tent, though I did not see him. Family members of the men fighting wore period costumes and sat underneath the scrubby trees, drinking out of plastic coolers. The Confederates won most of the battles. At each gunshot, several soldiers would fall.
The only prominent organic materials in the archive are sections of tree trunks marked with trail blazes by early Park Rangers, probably Civil War veterans. No one ever asked to see them. What had once served as the organizing principle of a great space was collapsed, compressed, crammed onto a small metal cart in a crowded archive, checked once a month for infestation.