I vociferously championed this aesthetic. ("Subtle! Sweeping! Sky!" my attempts to argue and articulate the ineffable.)("And the SKY" Georgia O'Keeffe wrote a friend, "Anita you have never seen SKY") More importantly/judgmentally, I scoffed at those who only appreciated classically "beautiful" scenery -- trite, bucolic river valleys or overly-ogled rugged ranges. Bah, Yosemite! Too touristy, Yellowstone! Really, all of you designers of tourism brochures and wall calendars, must you always favor the small-wildflower-filled-clearing-deep-in-the-shadowy-forest-at-the-foot-of-a-purpley-mountain scene? Shed your preconceptions for the sublime!, I'd tell anyone who cared to listen (and, for that matter, anyone who didn't), Leave behind your expectations; open to the experience of wild open plains.
Three years later, I'm slowly learning (or at least trying) to shed my own pre- (and mis-)conceptions and learn to appreciate the experience of any wilderness and every wildness. (I have more to say -- much, much more -- on the distinction between the two. But save that for later.)
It's fairly easy to appreciate Denali, though I still don't know how to explain the excitement and the allure.
After spending last summer tromping through mud and swatting at bugs and shivering in the wind and rain ("rain rain rain rain" read most of my notebook entries; my waterproof sketchbook is full of drawings of clouds), I wasn't any closer to understanding why so many people (sooooo many people) are so deeply attached to those mountains.
But after I left the high peaks and returned to my "normal" life, I was startled to realize that I missed the view out over the endless green forest. I longed to again hear the call of the loon. I wanted to watch the mist rise up from the valleys and the sky reflected in Heart Lake. I had to ... go back?
I'm going back.
I don't yet know whether or not I've become a mountain person or if I just fall in love with every wild place. I don't yet know what, exactly, I find most enchanting about the high peaks (I suspect it has a great deal to do with the view of the sky.) I don't yet know what it is about the Adirondacks that has somehow seeped into my psyche (as well as that of thousands of people who return again and again, year after year), but, as Barry Lopez writes, "The land gets inside us; and we must decide one way or another what this means
Armed with camera, tape recorder, notebook, field guides, lots of books about "wilderness" and/or "environmental stewardship," even more books of Buddhist poetry, and several layers of rain gear, I hope to find out.