Southeast Utah is one distant place where I’ve spent a great deal of time compared to any other temporary destination I’ve visited. Most of that time has been concentrated in the choice two or three weeks of the year, the last week of April and the first week of May. The place is usually a paradise then, budding out in vivid green, contrasting to the omnipresent pink sandstone cliffs and canyons. Potholes brim with water, with the only down side being those biting bugs which swarm at this short-term spell of abundant moisture. When I’m there, I often remind myself that at other times of the year paradise becomes hell, or at least purgatory. I’ve driven through the area in winter, when it’s cheerless and bleak, and at the height of summer when the sandstone roasts under the solar glare. Even though I remind myself of the fuller reality of the place, I tend only to imagine it in its spring garb when I need somewhere for an imaginary retreat.
I’ve at times considered the fact that so many of the beauties of Europe are actually the product of horror. Witness the architectural beauties commissioned by King Leopold of Belgium, all financed by the exploitation of the African Congo. The narrator of this Greek travelog mentioned that those lovely convoluted streets of some harbor hillside villages were constructed that way to confuse invading pirates. It’s another case where horror begets beauty, that is, once the horror has been buried in the past. To me, the virtual tourist reality created for us by the forces of commerce and the imagination of ad agencies becomes disturbing when I manage to penetrate the illusion of the glittering ads for tropical winter havens in the back pages of the New Yorker and the picturesque travel videos I find at the local library.
Despite that, I still like to watch the travelogs sometimes, taking the hype with a large granule of rock salt. Or maybe one of those cubic-foot salt blocks the ranchers in Utah set out at watering holes for their cattle.
Perhaps all manmade beauty is a product of or a reaction against grimness of one sort or another. Grimness or despair. So it’s best to appreciate whatever beauty unpleasant experience begets as an expression of that which is best within the human spirit and try to temporarily ignore the darker reflections of truth.