My weblog ELECTRON BLUE, which concentrated on science and mathematics, ran from 2004-2008. It is no longer being updated. My current blog, which is more art-related, is here.

Sat, 25 Dec, 2004

The Electron in the Blue Ridge

I first traveled through the Shenandoah Valley in January 1992, on my way to Chattanooga for a convention. From then on I have loved this area of Virginia, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the continuation of these highlands in East Tennessee. It doesn't matter what time of year it is, these places are always beautiful. The main highway is Route 81, much traveled by trucks, which follows the valley down into Tennessee before branching off into other southern routes. Route 81 features views of forested mountain ridges, hilly grasslands frequented by grazing cattle, geometric solids of barns and silos and rustic homes, big skyscapes, and plenty of hotels and shopping opportunities. It is not an "undeveloped" area and I am afraid that within the next ten or twenty years this route will resemble one long suburb. But no amount of built-up sprawl can diminish the dignity of the mountains above it.

This area is hollowed out with many caves and cave systems, including the very famous Luray Caverns. I have never been to the Caverns but hope that someday I might have the time and opportunity to visit. Every few miles there is an "antique mall" or junk shop which tempts me to turn off the road and buy more crap. But I resist, at least most of the time.

I love to explore new landscapes, at least within the USA. Last year, I spent my Christmas vacation in the prairie Midwest, including long drives through Kansas, Nebraska, and Missouri. I have seen the awesome emptiness and flatness of the treeless Great Plains, and the surrealism of the Flint Hills in southeast Kansas, where cattle graze on a landscape resembling the background of a painting by Yves Tanguy (though fortunately without the weird Tanguy hallucinations). I've also visited the Deep South and the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Missisippi, where it seems as though the Caribbean Islands have washed up some of their character onto the mainland coast. I have not yet seen the Rockies or the southwest American desert. But at least up to now, I still love the Shenandoah the best.

This area provides what I think is the landscape with the proper amount of complexity and interesting features to appeal to my basic primate instincts, inherited from my prehistoric ancestors. As a hunter-gatherer, I need a variety of environments to support my foraging and give me opportunities for security. Later civilization has only made things easier. There are forests and pasture hillsides, there are open areas, there are orchards and even vineyards, rocky glens, underhill hollows, and rushing streams. And of course there are roadside diners and Cracker Barrels, too, for the traveling prehistoric family in their stone-age utility vehicle.

This environmental diversity makes Shenandoah, and the Blue Ridge Mountain area, optimum for aesthetic landscapes. In all seasons, there is a variety of color, from the blue of the distant mountains in atmospheric perspective, to the near hills in brown and deep evergreen (in winter) which brighten to bronze and purple shadows in the evening sunlight. There was still bright green grass for the cattle to munch, as snow had not yet fallen, and the brushy browns of leafless trees and shrubs, the punctuation of dark red-cedar trees, and the occasional bright red or white of farm buildings. The whole scene tempts me to the rural ideal fantasy that I described in my previous post. Turn off from the built-up area of I-81, and the little narrow country road leads off into a paradise of distant hills, shadowy trees, and pure sky. It could be an eschatological afterlife vision of country heaven. Here, let me show you what I mean, in this photo that I took near Buchanan, Virginia. I want to wander down that cedar-lined country road, to some sunlit little cabin where I can spend a restful week or so gazing into the bright fields and distant hills, or the myriad stars at night, before I return to the shrieking, howling voices of pop and "soul" soundtracks, the roar and grind of traffic, the buzzing helicopters overhead and the toil of the real world.

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