Tue 24 Oct 2006
This morning, climbing up the hill behind our house as doves, quail, lizards, and snakes leapt away from my oncoming feet, a recurring idea of mine re-recurred. It’s not an original idea but I find it fun to mull over: how much does the landscape affect one’s perception of How Things Really Are? Like, is the world full of possibility and opportunity, or something to be survived through great struggle and suffering? Do we have a sense of enveloping abundance, or looming menace? These are false dichotomies, but gimme a break, I’m just throwing out examples. I’m not up to the task of philosophizing at great length, so instead I’ll do an inventory of how I’ve been landscapeified.
Ages Birth to Two: Los Angeles basin. I don’t remember much from this era, if anything. A sense of ease and mildness. My parents took me to the ocean and when you’re that small, you have to assume that everything you experience is normative, the way things are supposed to be. So I think I have a semi-conscious belief that everywhere I live should be bordered by restless waters.
Ages Two to Fourteen: Small logging town below a mountain in Northern California. I remember the smell of pine trees everywhere. We used to build forts out of fallen branches and piled up pine needles. My hands would get covered with sap from tree-climbing and it would stick there for a couple days. My parents took us kids out rock climbing, hiking, camping, skiing, swimming, and fishing. They taught us wilderness survival skills and what you could eat in the forest. The whole world was cool and shady, and nothing could sneak up on you.
Ages Fourteen to Eighteen: Near an active volcano in a hot, sunny, agricultural valley (still Northern California). Driving in any direction from town, I’d pass by orchards of olives and nuts. The tree trunks were so carefully spaced that they’d create pulsing optical illusions as I went past. Open fields were dotted with basalt boulders that had blown out of the volcano, and slick lava channels in the hills had turned into creeks with underwater tunnels. They fed into wide, flat, straight rivers that flowed through the valleys. We’d ride down them for miles on inner tubes. For field trips we’d go to the volcano and climb down in the cindercone or visit Bumpass Hell, the boiling, sulfurous mudpot area where some explorers had run into trouble. The mix of textures in the enviroment in general hinted at upheaval, the unexpected hidden below the prosperous soil.
Ages Eighteen to Twenty-Four: Another agricultural valley, this time in Oregon. I will save this and other landscapes for a later installment.