… un peu ivre (Prickly Pear Cactus Margarita) so this isn’t the best time to introduce this idea, but how about this:
There are three kinds of hills or mountains.
1.) Soft, sweet, reassuring, domesticated. Every August, on our drive back to our wee upstate NY house from UD‘s birthday dinner at the Bear Cafe, UD likes to watch the sun slip behind the low round green-to-the-top Catskills. It’s a calm, bucolic, verdant sort of deal, a world of cows and dogs and maple sugar candy.
2.) Wildly, elaborately, sculpted; strange, exhilarating, massive, unsettling. The red rocks of Sedona are all these things, but at the same time you feel you can have a human relationship to them. They don’t seem the same utterly natural part of the landscape the Catskills do (the Catskills can feel kind of backgroundy), yet they do seem earthly… We might not know exactly how these formations formed, but we rather easily claim them as part of our world. People give them homely names – Coffee Pot, Chimney – and ride their bikes along their rims. For all their massiveness, the eye can take each one in entirely, hiking along to a point of great closeness to particular rocks and examining their curves and lines and tracings.
It’s even perhaps easier to have a human relationship to the Sedona rocks than to the Catskills. The Catskills are a rather undifferentiated massing of green; each Sedona rock is strikingly different from the other. So you can fixate on one particular outcropping with great intensity.
3.) Cold, unworldly, “element bearable to no mortal,” as Elizabeth Bishop says of frigid ocean water. These are the Himalayas – inconceivable in altitude, impossible to take in fully with the human eye, crushing our lungs with the thinness of their air…
I’m suggesting that the Sedona rocks are a kind of aesthetic ideal – both beautiful and sublime (if you agree that something can be both of these things), while the Catskills are only beautiful, and the Himalayas only sublime.
January 9th, 2012 at 2:04AM
4) Those that disappear. For the last thirty years I have been trying to comprehend that Mt. St. Helens, which I climbed twice roughly forty years ago, doesn’t exist.
Glad you are enjoying the West. Do plan to see Bryce, Zion, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Crater Lake, Glacier and other Rockies, Rainier and Denali someday. They all differ and do rather blur your three categories.
January 9th, 2012 at 11:24AM
Norm: Yes – I’m expecting my categories to blur pretty quickly…
January 9th, 2012 at 12:23PM
Funny, this exact matter — distinguishing the character of different mountains — has been on my mind quite a bit recently, having returned from a holiday in the Blue Ridge. I grew up camping in the Smokies, so I have warm fuzzy childhood memories, but I was still surprised by how much the Blue Ridge moved me. I’ve seen much more vast and impressive mountains, but something about the solidity and antiquity of the southern Appalachians really speaks to me, for reasons I do not really understand.
I wonder what category they might fit in, and why. They’re more raw and rugged than the Catskills, yet less immense and less savage than the high Rockies, Tetons, etc.