Landscape artists and photographers are so often surrounded by inspiration and beauty in this area. Majestic sunrises, rich verdant land, tranquil ponds and streams, romantic sunsets and seasonal delights. Ever the new approach to capture a living breathing thing, a way of life, and its story.  

I have painted this area for so long now that I am still amaze myself at that which is left to do. The stories that still need to be told and recorded through art, the ever lasting document of humanity’s relationship with itself and the planet which it inhabits. 

There is something though that I have been mindful of in this pursuit.  I’ve talked about it a bit before, but with my age and my time in these parts, it seems a heighten  awareness prevails.  It is what I call the altered landscape and I always ponder my responsibility to it or lack thereof as painter. 

Change happens. Radical explosions of change bring on emotional fights, the stand your ground passions of rights and liberties offended.  But sometimes change also happens much more slowly than we think, sneaking up on us.  What snuck in as a whisper in time has its day to shout and eventually very loudly.  To a landscape painter, especially an older one, it doesn’t go as unnoticed as it normally might though to another’s day to day. I’ve written of a landowners who may not be from here or newly acquire a piece of property which always delivered an iconic view of the Piedmont, all of a sudden deciding a privacy screen of evergreens is within their right.  They go in as small, unassuming little things, only to year by year grow to rob the land of its character.  

Imagine for a moment two classic examples of views that could disappear.  Along Rectortown Road, just north of Marshall, there is an iconic barn with one of the grandest views back to Ashby’s Gap.  The barn itself should be saved as a state or county historic landmark at this point, but could you imagine a time when someone might plant a row of evergreens there, thus killing this iconic Piedmont view and punishing the community in the process?  It’s completely legal.  This very thing happened very nearby this spot and the view is now gone.  I always appreciated the Mellons for sharing their view west from Rokeby Road, where a sunset witness was a solid indicator life is so worth living here. 

But the altered landscape comes in so many other forms.  Especially this time of year, focus on those old trees butchered by telephone lines making their way through the now oddly shaped bark covered skeletons.  Power lines as we know are very unfriendly to the landscape in general, but we all love power and so what is there to do?

One of the grandest area testaments to the altered landscape is Mount Weather which even 16 years ago was just barely seen. Sure many knew it was there, but one who knew, more or less needed to point it out to one who didn’t.  After 9/11 and FEMA’s arrival to the little hole in the ground on the hill, you would think NASA was planning space launches from there, especially at night. In fact, if anyone else but the Federal Government did such a thing, they would meet an awful fate indeed from the local land supporters!

Even the traffic signs that litter the area are an overkill to me.  Next time you take a drive, choose a few miles to really concentrate on signs. Those sneaky things are everywhere. It’s amazing that you can come to a curve in the road and find not only a sign to tell you the road is about to bare right or left, but once in the turn itself, arrow after arrow after arrow to remind you that you are still in the turn.  Really?  Wouldn’t one be enough and what of the expense in tax dollars for those reminders?

In the end, I still find myself looking for those virgin views and wondering exactly what to do with the ones that no longer are. The ones that are not only worth painting, but worth living here for.

Live An Artful Life, Tom

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