Saturday, March 28, 2009

Changing Landscapes

From Eric Sloane’s Our Vanishing Landscape

We are the children of our landscape; it dictates behavior and even thought in the measure to which we are responsive to it.
--Lawrence Durrell

I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape - the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn't show.
--Andrew Wyeth

This book which is the sort of thing referred to as a "mirror of the past," will have done its job only if it first reflects the present, as a mirror really does. When a man has lost sight of his past, he loses his ability to look forward intelligently. With this thought in mind, I hope that my sketches in word and drawing will amount to more than drippy nostalgia.
--Eric Sloane, author’s note to Our Vanishing Landscape

One of my heroes is Eric Sloane, the artist, cultural historian and writer. His manner of looking at, and responding to, the landscape is something that's inspired me for years. In exploring multiple ways to view and understand the landscape around me I find not just someone else’s past but my own present.

Recently, a friend reminded me that much of North Carolina is more heavily forested now than it was eighty or a hundred years ago. Rusty strands of barbed wire, deep in the woods, are one reminder of that. Many times, these traces of long fallen fences have caused me to pause and consider that tree-covered hills had been open pasture not so long ago.

As people have abandoned farming, many of the old meadows and fields have been overtaken by trees. One of the most dramatic illustrations of the treeless mountain landscape is the photograph [below] from North Carolina and Its Resources, issued by the state board of agriculture in 1896. It shows the Barnard Farm in the Iotla Valley of Macon County, near the Little Tennessee River. If not for the mountains rising in the distance, you might think you’re looking at Kansas.

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