Sunday, March 15, 2009

FIELD NOTES: I have never seen mountains....

NYT Art Review: Mythic West of Dreams and Nightmares

Through the window

...I realized as the plane descended into Salt Lake City and I experienced for the first time in my fifty years the American landscape west of Chicago. Only the robotic female voice of the GPS kept my rental car where it should be …headed to Ogden…as I glided past white peaks as if I were in some IMAX theater. There are no words…and no photographs…that can adequately translate this experience…because it is about ‘having to be there’ to the ultimate degree. And I got to ‘be there’ because I was flown from CT to UT for the weekend as a birthday present for my daughter's 21st birthday to see her dance professionally…a surprise gift for both of us from her director. I am not ordinarily a spur of the moment person, so this was a challenge…a ‘monumental’ one for me…and in retrospect, it is as close as I have ever come to ‘running away’. She performed an emotionally (and physically) exhausting interpretation of the human artistic expression lost in the Holocaust and, after the all too brief live contact with my daughter, along with little sleep or food, I was already flying back out of Utah early the next morning with heightened senses and a golden opportunity to observe the changing landscape across the country in a way I had never imagined. Progressing back towards the middle of the country the land smoothed out, the roads appeared like a grid on a tablecloth and the buildings of Minneapolis became the highest peaks. On the approach into Connecticut, I saw the contrast. My daughter was right…we don’t have mountains here. Incredibly bumpy, pock-marked with little lakes and the roads coiling around and up and over the wooded hills like piles of giant garden hoses…I wondered why anyone would choose to settle this landscape. I had brought along a book I had started reading (Three Cups of Tea) which turned out to be a strange kind of coincidence…or not. The setting of the book is in the Himalayas where the mountains are more than twice the elevation as the ones I saw in still have never seen mountains…but I now can feel, and appreciate, their presence daily…

Excerpt from Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin:

“Nearly a century earlier, Filippo De Filippi, doctor for and chronicler of the duke of Abruzzi’s expedition to the Karakoram, recorded the desolation he felt among these mountains. Despite the fact that he was in the company of two dozen Europeans and 260 local porters, that they carried folding chairs and silver tea services and had European newspapers delivered to them regularly by a fleet of runners, he felt crushed into insignificance by the character of this landscape. ‘Profound silence would brood over the valley,’ he wrote, ‘even weighing down our spirits with indefinable heaviness. There can be no other place in the world where man feels himself so alone, so isolated, so completely ignored by Nature, so incapable of entering into communion with her.’


  1. Nice post Diane.
    New England may not have been an ideal place to settle, but it did have water, somewhat fertile land, rivers, and the ocean.
    Those are rare commodities west of the Plains.

  2. Well, I find it hard to divorce myself from the 20th century in which I was born...I have often fantasized about going back in time to experience the virgin 'America'...I truly cannot imagine the woodlands, the air, the sky at night... land that was not 'owned' or called a 'park'. (The closest I get is a painting in the Wadsworth or The Met). Since Utah, I have been musing about how the landscape we grow up in, surely must affect who we are...more on this soon...