Horizons and World Views

Last week I went to Chicago with my husband and son and we went up in one of the super-tall skyscrapers twice to see the views and have tasty adult beverages (that last would be me.) I was struck by the horizon. It's an unbroken line in every direction. I'd seen Chicago on a map but never really thought that it's essentially a city on the plains. How does this impact your view of the world? 

We loved the city - the architecture was stunning, the people warm, the winds cold and the food delicious - but I was unsettled by the horizon. 

We talked about it awhile because our son is planning to spend the next four years at a small college in Wisconsin far from the ocean and mountains that establish our internal compasses every day of our lives. He/we thought it may seem disorienting. 

Flatness.

When he goes for a walk how will he know which way is north? 

From where I sit at this moment, in my corner office on the second floor of my house I can see the Pacific to the west and the endless peaks of the Canadian Cascade range to the north. I see the San Juan Islands and behind them, the Olympics. On the other side of my house I see the foothills of the North Cascades. Mountains after mountains after mountains. 

Or flat. 

Last summer there were big forest fires in British Columbia and it changed the light in northwest Washington. It was the talk of the town: "Did you see the sun turn orange?" Then Timothy Egan wrote an essay in the NY Times that is pinned to my studio wall called "In Fire Country" His ending still moves me:
You think you are out of fire country, in control, in a metro area of 3 million people.  You live in the arms of the land, an intimacy that comes with the  immodest illusion that there is  such a thing as a safe distance.
When the horizon is flat, are you in the arms of the land? If not, how does that affect how you understand the earth?

Comments

Sonya Johnson said…
I lived for almost 4 years in coastal CT - also very flat. As someone who is very much a product of their environment, I found the mountain-less landscape to be monotonous and the lack of open space (from the never-ending forests) to be claustrophobic.

I thought I could handle living there for 4 years, but I was horribly homesick the entire time and couldn't wait to leave. I couldn't live in the midwest for the same reasons.

Hopefully, your son will be more adaptive than I was! :)
I, too, live with topographical helps to keep me oriented. To the north is Mt St Helens, to the north east, Mt Adams, to the south east, Mt Hood, to the south, the mighty Columbia River.

Your son will find new references for himself in the mid West. I know I did when I spent a month in Chicago suburbs nursing my sister after a serious surgery. Red barns and gray ones, television and cell towers, schools and businesses, factories, and on a nice day, the sun.

What a great opportunity. Going away to college, not all of the learning happens in the classrooms.

All the best!
loriann said…
Interesting idea. There must be comfort in the physical landmarks. Your reality is very different from mine...I think we all find ways to orient ourselves.
I hope your son has a great 4 years!