Wasatch Mountains, Charcoal on Paper 2019
The Wasatch Mountain Range experienced a record breaking winter in 2019, with a series of consistent and repeated storms bringing 626” of snowfall to central Utah. In the fall of 2018, just six months prior, the state was in severe drought, the result of the driest year in recorded history. I watched the portion of the Wasatch Range shown in this drawing during all the various states of weather and light in 2018 and 2019. It remained beautiful each day, throughout the drought as well as in the deep snow of winter. To my eye, this section of the Wasatch is perhaps the most beautiful mountain sequence I know of. The arrangement and rhythm of shapes, ridgelines and peaks, elegant and full of rich passages of contrast, strong and subtle shadow, balance complex asymmetry of rugged and soft. This solid mountain range turns any season, weather, or time of day into a stunning scene. My particular preference is the snow, and I have an affinity for a long ski to a good sketch location, as well as for the way paper-white snow receives a simple shadow cast from a tree, a single gesture that simultaneously clarifies the shape and location of both the tree and the land. I find this effortless clarity compelling. The hot drought was less pleasant to work in, although the range still performed, especially when the black twilight ridgeline was offset by some stunning sunset made more radiant by wildfire smoke.
The dramatic swings in our climate have become noticeable now, even without research reports or news stories. Our bare skin and open eyes are enough to detect it. Today more heat, today more rain, today more fire than before. I remember reading a global warming packet from a 1990’s Earth Science class, an addendum to the text. I wondered then if I’d be able to feel the difference in 2020, the year the addendum used to indicate the future. What does 3 degrees more feel like? Will it be real? I wondered if we’d be able to tell. You can tell, I’d say now to my 12-year-old self. Now, rather than refer to the science, residents often mention how they feel a different weather, see a different pattern, and the comment is often followed by a short silence. It went too far, says the silence.
I’ve heard it said that a great dancer will make any partner good regardless of skill level. If mountain ranges were dancers, and the elements their partners, this section of the Wasatch would be a great dancer. I’ve never seen it with anything other than beautiful weather, beautiful light, or in a beautiful season. The cascading series of ridges and peaks swing well with any environmental factor, from droughts to blizzards.
Land moves to the deep beat of geologic time, and the thin staccato on its surface, the “us” of life, is inconsequential to the ageless rock below. As far as the climate goes, a mountain knows little of the weather. Although large fluctuations will be catastrophic for us, the rock won’t notice. Drought and fire will pass over the mountain and the mountain will endure. Life occupies, after all, hardly a single beat in the long song of the earth, rare though it may be. The trees that create the shadows on snow that I like may disappear, but I suspect the basic graceful rhythm of this mountain passage is largely determined by the rock itself, and it will endure. In a post-life environment in the future, this passage of mountain will still make beautiful all of the new weather with which it dances.