Where Does the Landscape End?

And where do we begin?


| May-June 1995



1. In the European tradition, landscapes—a painters’ idea—began as visions of beauty, of serenity. They were pastoral, idealizing the life of country people. Then they came to include scenes from nature, great waterfalls and mountain ranges; and then renderings of skyscraper canyons and other urban scenes—still on a grand scale; and then—with the help of photographers—images of garbage cans in alleys; and then of various kinds of debris, living and inanimate, scattered through scenes of degradation and desolation. Which has changed more, the landscape or how we look at it?

2. Is a degraded landscape more sophisticated than a pristine one? More realistic? Less romantic?

3. Why is gardening the most widely practiced hobby in the United States? When you can’t resist planting a few peas in the backyard on the first warm day of spring, what is it that you crave? Peas?

4. The word wilderness acquired positive connotations only quite recently. Before the mid-19th century, in the European-American tradition, wilderness—especially those features of wilderness that we now think particularly lovely: seacoasts, islands, mountains, forests—was regarded as frightful, ugly, even evil. The idea of wilderness as a good thing took root and prospered as our culture became more urban and industrial. What unfulfilled need in contemporary life does wilderness satisfy? Do you think a good society needs access to wilderness? Why?

5. Wilderness has been associated in many cultures with spiritual revelation. Is it what is absent from wilderness that prompts revelation, or what is present there?

6. Is it possible to love well, say, Yellowstone National Park without also caring about Cody, Wyoming, and the Idaho ranches just beyond the park’s western boundary?