Outdoors North: No lack of beautiful landscapes to visit


“Someday I think I’d like to paint a seascape, if I could only get the ocean to stand still,” — Tom T. Hall

Recently, I’ve spent some time thinking about landscapes.

Quiet time. Good time trying to consider and imbue myself with the notion of these incredible, staggering and spacious things all around us – places that possess and present some of my most favorite things all in one place.

With no pun intended, I think landscapes can be places that are overlooked, perhaps underappreciated and taken for granted on our daily, dizzying trips racing from here to there and back again.

I have come to realize that I have not only a passing appreciation for these special places but a deep and an enduring affection for them. I think I have been in love with landscapes for as long as I can recall.

Of course, I am not alone in this, especially among artists and other creative types.

“In the early nineteenth century, landscape painting became a means for expressing American identity and documenting the westward expansion graphically,” an article on the website Artst.org said.

The earliest painting school in American art was called the Hudson River School, which was characterized by beautiful lighting and meticulous workmanship. Painter Thomas Cole is considered the school’s founder, an artist who created romantic visions of the environment during the 1800s.

In January 1836, in American Monthly Magazine, Cole composed an essay, expressing his love for “American scenery.”

“It is a subject that to every American ought to be of surpassing interest; for whether he beholds the Hudson’s mingling waters with the Atlantic — explores the central wilds of this vast continent, or stands on the margin of the distant Oregon, he is still in the midst of American scenery — it is his own land; its beauty, its magnificence, its sublimity — all are his; and how undeserving of such a birthright, if he can turn towards it an unobserving eye, an unaffected heart!”

As much as painters might share a love for landscapes, their methods and viewpoints are as different as a bouquet of wildflowers.

In this, I think immediately of the differences between Van Gogh’s swaying cypress, yellow house and Arles paintings, which depict landscapes and cityscapes, the flowers of Monet, Picasso’s works of Colorado and the Mediterranean and the southwest stylings of Georgia O’Keefe.

My love of landscapes has led me to various pursuits, from academic studies and field trips to photography and imaginary still life exercises.

In graduate school, I studied various landforms through a series of geomorphology courses, including those discussing landforms created by fluvial, tectonic, glacial, volcanic and aeolian means.

During a course on geomorphology of the national parks, we took a field trip from Los Angeles over a long weekend to study the landforms of Bryce Canyon, Zion and Grand Canyon national parks.

That weekend, we slept on the roof of a desert research station, checked out the San Andreas Fault and took all kinds of pictures on crappy cameras. I still have a bunch of prints in a box from that trip.

Conversely, I have taken many decent landscape photos over the past 30 years or so.

Like many people, I love the beautiful colors that blend to create the cumulative effect one experiences when viewing landscape photographs.

The colors, whether blending subtly or contrasting starkly or both, are a big part of the draw for me. I think jigsaw puzzles when I see landscapes.

I do find it strange that I don’t think the black-and-white images taken by Ansel Adams or some of those treasured photos from Arthur Rothstein and Dorothea Lange and others from the Dust Bowl days would elicit the same thoughts and emotions if they were in color.

In much the same way, Otto Preminger chose not to film the Upper Peninsula in color for “Anatomy of a Murder.” It was available at the time, but black-and-white better produced the late fall or early spring period and character for the movie.

Landscapes include rivers, lakes, trees, animals, flowers, rocks, sands, clouds and stars, all kinds of things that I am enamored with.

The feeling of wide-open spaces and freedom in landscapes are another part of the reason I love to view them or experience them in person. I could sit on a hill all day long just taking in the views, watching the changing light as the hours move past.

In pensive, passive moments like this I envision myself painting the landscape as best I could in watercolor, chalk or charcoal. However, I think that will have to wait until the next lifetime or at least retirement.

I have too many other things I am working on already like trying to find a way to squeeze more time out of a day — like a big juicy orange. No matter how hard I try, there’s only so much juice.

For now, I’m pretty good at taking some vivid mind pictures that I can reproduce later like 3-D art, with not only sights, but smells, feelings, sounds and memories of being there all included.

No frames or special glass, picture wire, nails or hooks required.

Like Preminger, famous movie director John Ford used Monument Valley in Arizona and Utah to make 10 westerns, half of which starred John Wayne who was a larger-than-life landscape character all by himself.

Ford, who is said to have fallen in love with Monument Valley at first sight, filmed the location in black and white and later in color. One of the most beautiful examples of his work is “The Searchers,” which is not only a great John Wayne movie, but one of the best westerns too.

Musicians and songwriters also have expressed affection for landscapes or grappled with how to produce their effect in the music they write and perform.

Listen to Glen Campbell on Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman” and you’ll be able to hear the landscape. Webb was also able to capture this feeling in other hits he wrote that were recorded by Glen Campbell, including “Galveston” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.”

A great song painting about an artist and memory, loss and longing is called “Paint Me a Birmingham,” written by Buck Moore and Gary Duffy and recorded most memorably by Tracy Lawrence.

Without ever having seen them, just the promise of landscapes unexplored, undiscovered and unrealized has stirred the hearts of many early explorers here and elsewhere, likely since the first humans.

The power of suggestion fired dreams of what life must be like within those unclaimed landscapes with gold, silver, good jobs and a better life – Manifest Destiny.

In Cole’s time, painters from the Hudson River School who traveled into the landscapes of American Scenery to capture their subjects did so uncomfortably, with their methods tested.

“Due to the magnitude and expanse of the American countryside, these artists were forced to go on lengthy expeditions lasting months in frequently less-than-ideal circumstances,” the Artst website read. “The majority of painters would make preliminary drawings rather than entire canvasses in order to complete the paintings in the comfort and convenience of their studios at a later period.”

For me, picking a favorite landscape type is like trying to pick a favorite song, color, movie or kind of pie.

It’s almost impossible.

But like songs, colors, movies and pies, there are contenders for the top spots.

For songs, I love “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” by The Monkees, “A Big Hunk O’ Love” by Elvis Presley, “Crimson and Clover,” by Tommy James and the Shondells, “Come Together” by The Youngbloods and “Heart Full of Soul” by The Yardbirds.

In colors, I adore sapphire and cornflower blues, amethyst purple and raspberry, butterscotch gold and every shade of gray.

Favorite movies would include “Unforgiven,” “Singin’ in the Rain,” “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” “Vertigo” and “North by Northwest.”

Pies would be key lime, blueberry, cherry, strawberry rhubarb and peach.

I sometimes think I can’t love landscapes any more than I do and then I visit a new place that I may have only heard about before and it exceeds any description or expectation.

In those times, it feels like my mind and my chest are ripping wide open and I am sailing to a new world in the universe or something. It’s incredible.

Among my favorite landscape types are deserts, boreal forests and rural countryside.

I think the thing that ties all of these “scapes” together, be they landscapes, seascapes, soundscapes, cityscapes, moonscapes and more, more, more is that they are all escapes.

The feelings of exhilaration, freedom and great wide wonder come from the glorious moments we can spend experiencing them, enveloping ourselves in them and personalizing them.

There are so many places left out there that I want to see and experience, I know I will never lack beautiful landscapes to visit.

I will run out of time before that ever happens.

So, it’s best to keep moving, covering ground, exploring terra incognita, keeping my boots walking.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Outdoors North is a weekly column produced by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on a wide range of topics important to those who enjoy and appreciate Michigan’s world-class natural resources of the Upper Peninsula.


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