Tuesday, April 16, 2013

On Mountains as Citizens

Angel Peak, New Mexico

When I did my post on Aztec, New Mexico, I forgot to mention something. It was how a brilliant jagged line of snow-capped mountains is so visually near the town, but it has no presence in the town. In the photo above, you can see the range I'm talking about. It's in the back; covered by snow. 

It was funny - each of the several times I approached or departed from Aztec over the course of a couple of days, I felt startled when I saw the gorgeous lines of this mountain range, almost a feeling of  "Wow! Where did that come from?!" But in Aztec, either the range is not visible because of the town's skyline, low-rise though it may be, or for some other reason. I'd have to go back to Aztec to test if one can see this beautiful mountain range from town.

I had the same experience in Sedona, Arizona. It was odd. Although Sedona is surrounded by its iconic red rock formations, I found I had to make a conscious decision to raise my eyes and look at them because otherwise, my eyes were kept at street-level, occupied by the town's buildings.

Sedona, Arizona. Remember to look up.

 Isn't that funny? I can look at this photo and wonder, gee, how could you not see the dramatic outcroppings everywhere you looked - they're right there! Nevertheless, I didn't notice them in Sedona unless, as I said, I made that conscious effort to see them.  Don't know why. A design flaw in my own visual circuits? A function of street orientation? Sun in the eyes, keeping them lowered? Too much street-level visual distraction?   

.... come to think of it, I don't notice any mountain presence in Santa Fe because all of my visual attention is consumed by the generic suburban sprawl of Cerillos Avenue and its tributaries. If I'm in the historic area, my focus is on the goings-on in the plaza.

Sacramento Mountains, Alamogordo, New Mexico

In Alamogordo, on the other hand, the mountains are as much a part of the city as any of its buildings. You are always conscious of their presence (or lack thereof, when they disappear). (Not to forget the wow factor of seeing the luminous line of the White Sands, 15 miles away, while moving west on First Street or while traveling on higher ground, parallel to the White Sands, on Scenic Drive. There aren't many places in the world that can boast such a sight.)

Organ Mountains, Dripping Springs Road, between Las Cruces and Organ, New Mexico

In Las Cruces, the Organ Mountain range is a substantial citizen of that city. Whenever I see the Organ Mountains, I imagine returning nomads, indigenous or not, crossing the basin miles and miles away, when they see the Organ Mountains, think, "We're almost home."

Mountains outside Las Cruces, New Mexico - natural backdrop for a performance


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