Soaking in the Landscapes
- Soaking in the Landscapes
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On the way there I stopped at the Museum of the White Mountains in Plymouth, where there were two ongoing exhibits of the 19th century's White Mountain School of Art.
As an inveterate hiker, so far I haven't made a trip exclusively to the museum, but have instead combined it a couple times with a distant hike. Still I value what is there, and enjoy being exposed to that "intangible" that 19th century White Mountain painters strove for. Whether that intangible has soaked into me or not doesn't really matter as much as simply putting myself in its path.
What do these old landscape paintings represent or have to offer? Recently at a White Mountain art opening in Jackson, I heard an elder collector verbalize his ideas on the matter. One of the northeast's important art collectors had come up for the opening with his wife. Standing next to me in the crowd, and looking closely at a painting, he said that the 19th century landscape artists strove hard to capture "God's beauty in the American landscape — never quite achieving it, and trying hard to again and again."
I think I am more of the post-modern school that applies Peter Schickele's mantra about music — "If it sounds good, it is good" — to visual arts: If it looks good, it is good. Still I appreciated what the elder art collector had said to me, and a couple weeks later, after a half hour of soaking in the colorful landscapes by the likes of Champney and Shapleigh at the Museum of the White Mountains, I headed out of Plymouth and north on I-93 toward Welch/Dickey.
On the drive to the hike I briefly wondered about the similarities between what we experience today in the pastoral mountains and what was experienced by those 19th century painters in a less complicated society before the cultural and scientific explosions of the 20th century, and the electronic explosion of the 21st.
Luckily it was only a passing ponderance, and soon I was at the trailhead and heading up the trail to Welch Mountain. In 1.3 miles I reached the well known south facing ledge with its fantastic view across the Mad River valley to the bumpy ridges of Sandwich Dome. Then I turned and headed up the steep trail over smooth ledges and through the shrinking forest. Jack pine dotted ledges as I neared the summit of Welch. It was the perfect summit of be on as the afternoon light increased in intensity. A cool breeze blew from the west.
I dropped down to the saddle and started up Dickey Mountain as the light continued to intensify, and when I reached the open ledge near the summit, it was good to turn around and see the classic view of the summit cone of Welch Mountain, and the world spreading out below.
On top I briefly walked over to the northern view towards Mount Lincoln and Lafayette, the latter capped with snow.
From there the trail descended the long flat west ridge of Mount Dickey. I moved in and out of the forest, occasionally coming out on wide flat ledges that were a pleasure to walk down, with the maturing day all around. It was specially enjoyable when the trail wound down smooth ledges next to an eastern drop off, with Welch Mountain across an intervening steep ravine.
Finally the trail entered the woods and dropped quickly toward the parking lot.
Later, unlike the artists of the 19th century, I drove out to a variety store in Campton, and bought a cup of coffee for the ride home.
For those interested, check out the extensive website of the Museum of the White Mountains at www.plymouth.edu/museum-of-the-white-mountains/. The website is so extensive with archived collections about the history, culture and environment of the region, that you might be tempted to stay home rather than going to their physical location in Plymouth. That would be a mistake.
Ed Parsons, “Soaking in the Landscapes,” The Cairn, accessed March 6, 2015, http://www.plymouth.edu/the-cairn/items/show/101.