Driving partway across the country this week, I was awash with welcome sights of lush, rolling hills as well as long stretches of unappealing flatlands. Driving through the former, I stared contentedly out the window, my soul nourished by the surrounding beauty. Driving through the latter, I leaned on the gas, eager to be free of the monotony.
I’ve noticed this my entire life. The Plains States (with apologies to its denizens) bore me. They’re obstacles en route to better scenes. The desert I can appreciate, sand dunes folding into each other in smooth contours, but it is an academic affinity, a fondness felt in the head rather than the heart. I understand the appeal of destinations like Utah and Northern California, but the land is draped in colors too drab for my liking. There are too many tones of brown and gray, a land of death too seldom punctuated by sparse shoots of green.
In contrast, places like Colorado, with its alpine meadows and verdant valleys, call to my deepest parts. Switzerland, a land of too-green woodlands and noble, jutting peaks, captivated me every moment I was blessed enough to be within its borders. Beauty in these regions is insistent, glutting the eye with resplendent greenery too overwhelming to ignore.
While most acknowledge these places as striking, I don’t imagine that my criteria for beauty is universal. I know that there are those who would praise the plains, who would savor the savannah, who would revel in the red rocks of the badlands. But these lands are not for me.
I am struck by how much my sense of beauty is shaped by the land I grew up in: the Ozarks. My birthplace is a land of gentle hills and flowing streams. It produces in miniature everything that I treasure in the Swiss Alps and the Colorado Rockies. I wonder how much my cross-country travels would change if I had grown up elsewhere. Were I born in Wyoming, would I find refuge in more rugged beauty? Would Arizona have taught me to look for splendor less-gilded, more lean and muscular?
Regardless, I remain an unabashed frolicker. You’ll find me near streams and fields of green.