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No Miracles Here

Painted-Hills-Bespoke-TravelerAs I look upon the hills on Sahaptin land, I wonder how to photograph them in interesting ways that will appeal to my audience. Mounds, I tell myself, even the vermilion colored mystical ones before me are only as interesting to others as I make them so. Of what value can these rounded prominences be if they aren’t presented in imaginative ways, with unfamiliar perspectives and compositions? Of what value is my creativity if it cannot find contemporary narratives, fresh truths no one has mined before? 

I recently watched a panel in which several excited, privileged, and purported geniuses repeatedly stated that the key to solving all of our problems would emerge from innovations in technology. Hope was to be found in medicines, collective data, and digital advances unimagined to our century. Molecular engineering, outer space exploration, genetic manipulation would be our messiahs.

I laughed. I was the only one. I laughed because I was thinking about how foldable smartphones had not prevented a glacier’s demise. I was thinking about how implementing the internet of things had increased polluted waterways and extinct species. I was thinking of how even as we were tracking the complete DNA sequence of apples, we struggled to break outdated stigmas around health and wellness. I got the joke and so I laughed. But I understand why no one else did. I’m still falling under the spell of ‘let’s start over and it’ll all work out this time…buy my magic potion and it’ll get rid of all your troubles….’ 

Painted-Hills-Photo-BTThere’s a fable I grew up on where the gods built us a paradise. For awhile we lived inside it in harmony. Then the seeds of discontent were sown into our idyllic garden (insert your demon of choice here) and we became enemies to one another, to our Elysium, and the gods. As our world spiraled into disappointment, the deities destroyed it to construct another better one. Each version continued to survive for a short time until it inevitably fell apart. Then, yet again, the dismayed creators would have to come in and reset matters, ad infinitum. Do you know this legend?

There are some ancient truths which keep cropping up no matter how vehemently we avert ourselves from them. They’ve been spoken by many famous and forgotten people through the centuries: be self-aware, love one another, take care of the place in which you live. Yet, they are so difficult to practice that we avoid them, looking for alternative utopias, radical solutions, new narratives which can bring us the happiness and belonging we all seek. We couch the warnings and the advice in modern slang, wrap them in shiny packages, rearrange the words in the belief that this time they will catch on and we will fix the system.

Painted-Hills-Red-BTBack to those blood-red hillocks I was perusing. A mother and daughter passing by asked how much farther the route was which segued into a pleasant chat about lignite and laterite soil deposits. When they left, I returned to studying the terrain from the top. I slunk on my stomach to examine the surface. I leaned in to investigate details. I trudged the trail through them once, then again; began at its end to return to the beginning. I stopped halfway to contemplate the ridges. 

The painted hills became alien to me. A landscape I couldn’t comprehend, a history beyond my reckoning. I could’ve been on another planet or an alternate reality. Yet, they were the same rusted prominences, I was the same small human. 

Painted-Hills-scene-BTThen, I sat on a bench and simply stared unseeing into the distance. My mind wandered to the two strangers I’d met. My senses roamed over the undulating topography. I conversed with the sedimentary strata, reflecting on their birth as slow layers in a former floodplain, their metamorphosis as they built up and were eroded, changing shape, changing color, changing history.

The exercise restructured the painted hills in my brain. They no longer were separate from me. They evolved into part of my experience. Their wrinkled textures became my skin. Their memories were what I saw when I looked at my photos. 

Painted-Hills-Path-BTSo, here they are. Nothing ground-breaking. Nothing cutting-edge. The painted hills as they’ve been for millennia. The way you’ve seen them in others’ paintings and depictions. You’ll have to do your own work to determine what they become to you. You’ll have to dream them in your imagination. And I’ll have to return to the old tales, the ones our ancestors told under the stars — about suffering, loneliness, and death — to find my way. I’ll have to keep covering the well-trodden territory until I too have learned those inescapable lessons.


TRAVEL NOTE:

Don’t Hurt the Dirt! If you’re visiting, please stay on trails and don’t remove ‘souvenirs’ so the hills may continue their story. Protect the unseen wildlife by keeping accompanied pets on a leash and picking up after them. Maintain the soundscape by not operating your drone.


This was a trip taken before the outbreak of coronavirus. Let me know how you’re coping with quarantine in the comments below. If you have published a post about it, include a link to it as well. Wishing everyone a safe April! Take care.

113 replies »

  1. A previous commenter used the word “eloquent”, which is how I’d describe your writing. This was another post that I had to read twice – one to soak in the gorgeous photos, and then to soak in your words. You always give me something new to think about.

    Also: I started to laugh when you talked about new tech being the Answer To Everything, and am glad you laughed too. (And you were the only one there who laughed? That is so sad.)

  2. Amazing! Loved reading your blog. Beautiful words weaved together. It took me on a flash back ride to the long unending zigzag winding roads surrounded by the colorful mountains,without much human race that I once experienced. They are life long memories to cherish.
    Loved reading this the best..
    ‘The key to solving all of our problems would emerge from innovations in technology. I laughted’
    We are fine, hope the same your side during this quarantine.

    • Thank you for your kind comment. It’s hard to remember a time when not every place was touched by humans, but how wonderful that you have sweet memories of wandering such ‘winding roads’! Doing well and hoping this finds you safe.

    • Heh…heh…happy to see your photo of the exact same bush. Makes me feel as if I might have seen you there as I was wandering around. But even more pleased that my thoughts on miracles and life lessons pertaining to exploring the hills caught your interest. Thanks for such a great compliment. Hoping this finds you safe and well.

  3. Beautiful photos and whenever I visit your blog I am left reflecting on your eloquent words. There is a simple beauty here. Perhaps not a jaw dropping one but a sense of calm and endurance. We are both well and at home, grateful for the adventures we had and hopeful of those to come years ahead.

  4. Great pictures!
    My father traveled for a living, and during vacations I will join him, honestly miss the long roads, with many miles with no one on sight but nature, so different today, in most places along the road today. 🙂

    • Thank you! How fun that you were able to spend time with your father and explore those long roads and different destinations with him at a young age.
      Yes, with many more people being able to travel and an ever-growing population of humans on the planet, there are very places anymore where you don’t see crowds.

      • Yes, I remember you could travel for many miles without seeing any signs of people, except for the road, and telephone poles along the road, very different today.

  5. This landscape is so unusual, but especially for Oregon (as I understand Oregon.) Thanks for the lovely pix. Yes, the next great “cure-all” is right around the technological corner. Except it isn’t. Science is important in so many ways, but not when the real human scale is forgotten.

    • I agree this landscape is not what most of Oregon is like, so that in itself was quite exciting! It’s ironic how we both seek out science as a cure-all and belittle its lessons at the same time. Thanks for stopping by and hoping this finds you safe and well.

  6. Your photos are stunning – nothing ordinary about them at all. Is this in Northern Arizona/Southern Utah? The Vermilion Cliffs area? I so miss the west! The green patches are surprising as well and of course, I love the blooming colors of spring.

    It’s interesting how scenery – or walks by yourself – evoke thoughts, but also plans and solutions. One could even solve the world’s problems on a solitary walk of reasonable length. Then the landscape takes over and leads the mind.

    Isn’t it crazy how history keeps repeating itself and people never seem to learn – mostly out of selfish, power, or money reasons?? At least nature is doing well during this pandemic. You already read my last post which mentioned some of our COVID-19 experiences. I wrote another one before that, I believe, but hope to focus on more positive things soon. 🙂

    • Thank you Liesbet. You understand so well how topography affects one in different ways. The hills themselves are truly extraordinary and are located in Oregon. Which is another surprise because one doesn’t think of this landscape in the Pacific Northwest.

      I was so happy to read in your last post that you are healthy, despite the struggles of finding open public spaces at this time and access to resources. This week in the US is to be the worst, with peak numbers Sunday, so please take care of yourselves and be careful. Sending you lots of hugs and kind thoughts that sheltering will be easier for you.

  7. I love the colors. Such desert locations are otherworldly for me, not meant for humans and yet human curiosity sent you there. I haven’t really explored Oregon – more just a drive through, but I remember seeing my first real tumbleweed there. Maybe that seems like it isn’t a big deal. You swerve the car so as not to hit the big ones, but I found them so fascinating. It wasn’t a western or a cartoon. They were rolling past me, not some cowboy on a screen, and I felt part of their random rolling.
    I wrote a blogpost about the coronavirus several weeks ago, although it seems like longer ago now. I had already been following the Italian news weeks before that and the United States was just going into its state of emergency. All the best to you. https://www.calabriatheotheritaly.com/coronavirus-in-italy/

    • Oh my gosh – like you – I am fascinated by tumbleweeds! Having only seen them in old Westerns, my first experience of them was also trying to evade them on a road trip. Entire eighteen-wheel trucks were being taken out by the rolling shrubs…

      Doesn’t it seem as if an eternity has gone by since we were first in this global quarantine? Sending wishes for your continued health and safety. Take care!

    • Mmm…the fable does make you wonder. It is a version of a Hindu myth which deals with the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. So happy that my images spoke to you! Wishing you a safe and healthy time ahead.

  8. I enjoyed seeing the images that provoked your thoughts, and the idea that resonated most with me was that we keep ignoring simple, ancient truths and trying to replace them with sexy, shiny, new technology. I read a provocative article about the balancing of economic growth with *real* prosperity – not so much the monetary kind but the quality-of-life type that keeps our earth cleaner, gives us more time for other humans, etc. If there is anything we can achieve in our post-Covid world, I hope a return to simpler values may be one of them.

    • Thank you for that. I too hope we can achieve some actual change in the way we individually and as a society consider consumption, success, and “growth” on limited resources. May you be safe and well. Take care! 🤗

  9. Looks like my kind of place. Such beautiful walking trails flanked by earth on either side. You take me to a totally different world. And your words weave a wonderful tale. How are you holding up? We’re generally fine. But we have our highs and lows. take care and stay safe. Hugs!

    • Thank you for the hugs! I’m doing well. As I work remotely and am isolated in a place where I can be near nature without very many people around, it’s easier for me. I’m so very lucky in that way. It’s all such an adjustment trying to match the surreal reality of life, though, isn’t it? Happy to hear you are safe and healthy. Wishing you strength and sending lots of love.

  10. Your photos are just wonderful, I have felt each one deeply.
    Your ancient stories behind make perfect sense and truth to me.
    How wonderful to see all this in reality.

    miriam

  11. While I do appreciate successful efforts to photograph landscapes in «imaginative ways, with unfamiliar perspectives and compositions», I am also an old Yankee:
            Don’t fix what ain’t broke.
    The hills are quite content to be seen in straightforward compositions with believable colors, singing their own silent song.  Thank you.

  12. Loved reading your thoughts and seeing your wonderful images, Atreyee. I will get here someday. Mother Earth always knows despite the foibles of humans. Maybe a silver lining of this crisis will be our realization that it isn’t so hard to treat the earth more kindly and within that, ourselves. I hope you are enjoying your “nature baths” and are having safe and healthy days. 🌍💙

  13. The views are actually very impressive. Colors are very attractive.
    I liked the legends and stories and the morals they have.
    While technology helps with many things, it has become one-sided evolution. I wrote about that, too, that human brain is the one which needed more challenges and active usage, but we’re delegating everything to devices and results are horrible.
    I am happy that I have all practical skills which are needed so that there is no need for anything from the outside.
    I’ve never been to Oregon. I suppose red hills are just a small part of it. We used to travel before 2013 and we’ve been all over United States, too, obviously Canada, also Mexico, etc. After that I’ve been practically at home with once a year visiting mom in Latvia while she was alive. Self-isolation is almost the way I have lived for the last 7 years, so, nothing new.
    It looks like it’ s warm there, love that!

  14. Wonderful images BT. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    I loved your beautiful paragraph: “There are some ancient truths which keep cropping up no matter how vehemently we avert ourselves from them. They’ve been spoken by many famous and forgotten people through the centuries: be self-aware, love one another, take care of the place in which you live. Yet, they are so difficult to practice that we avoid them, looking for alternative utopias, radical solutions, new narratives which can bring us the happiness and belonging we all seek. We couch the warnings and the advice in modern slang, wrap them in shiny packages, rearrange the words in the belief that this time they will catch on and we will fix the system.”

    I fear we put too much hope in science and technological advances and too little on ancient truths. Instead of finding salvation, sometimes it feels like we are swapping one Pandora’s box for another in our pursuit of the next great technological leap.

    • “Instead of finding salvation, sometimes it feels like we are swapping one Pandora’s box for another in our pursuit of the next great technological leap.” Yes! It really does feel like that. We keep thinking that the tools we create will help us out of our issues. Thanks so much for your insight into this! Stay safe.

  15. Beautifully written and eloquent legend telling. About that legend…. it is a tale of birth, growth, destruction, rebirth and that story goes as far back as the human experience. The Indian gods of Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu cover this cycle of birth, growth and decline in its entirety. So yes, in the era of COVID19 which will no doubt be branded as BC (before Corona) and AC (after Corona), the theories that our salvation comes from technology, seems laughable. Twenty five cents mask is what stands between health care providers life and death and we can’t manage to handle a basic supply chain for twenty five cent masks, so saving the planet with future technology seems a tad utopian.

    Thank you for this thought provoking essay and beautiful photos of vermillion mounds/hills. Pertinently these mounds will remain as they are, and were before Corona and after.

    Ben

    • So good to hear from you Ben and thank you for your very poetic comment. Indeed, the mythology is from the Hindu epics…how well they understood the eternal cycle and its inevitability! It’s ironic that 2020 was supposed to be the year of 5G communication, autonomous cars, and drone delivery systems…here we are relearning how to wash our hands and struggling to provide effective health care masks. Wishing you and Peta well. Stay safe!

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