wilderness aesthetic

May 16.2012

For those that seek it, the wilderness around Aspen, Colorado has ameliorating properties, and for those that live here, these properties endow permanent, perception-altering effects. The initial dazzle that a new visitor feels matures after time and slips into quotidian reality. The steeps of the mountains mellow, the sweet river air evens out, and spooking an elk becomes routine and not the exhilarating brush it once was. In short, you get spoiled. You become accustomed to a luxury that few get to experience: wilderness.

It is only when you leave do you become acutely aware of the effect it has had on you. As a former city-dweller, I was shocked when I went home to find familiar spaces hauntingly bare in what seemed to be a disturbing obsession with manicuring.  Lawns stretched for miles, under trees and along roads, as did parking lots, their blank expanses broken with oil spots and tire burn. Even building facades were embarrassingly naked, without depth or complexity. I puzzled over these observations. Only when I returned to the Roaring Fork valley did I understand the reasons.

Wilderness is a concept and wilderness is an aesthetic. It is a messy, raw world without lines, frames or explanations. Wilderness lacks human dominion. Self-determining organisms inhabit spaces blessedly free of our obsessive manicuring. It is wondrous madness. And once this idea has worked its way into you like a really good splinter, you desire strange things.  Larger spaces. Softer colors. More complex textures. Silence. Cities, in their garish ways, become grating. The line between a park and a forest blur drastically towards the latter. Fences become insults. Most notably, your definition of beauty changes, an alteration I fear irreparable. Your aesthetic becomes wild. You can see this in the residences and landscapes around Aspen. I won’t describe it; it is better to see for yourself.

Some may say that living here intrudes upon the wilderness. I might agree, but don’t forget the natural world is not helpless. Every second it is insinuating itself into us as well.