Even well-intentioned art is unnatural

Walking the plank

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I love art and nature, in their infinite combinations. In Ireland, I once made a long detour to visit the site where David Lean filmed the epic "Ryan's Daughter" on the lavish Western coast on a high bluff overlooking the Blasket Islands. As a child I admired the giant orange Caldor that graced the downtown square of my hometown of Grand Rapids. I made regular visits to the Metropolitan Museum, among others, when I worked in New York. I studied with a watercolorist at Dartmouth. And for years I tried to make a living selling reproductions of my favorite paintings. But I was always able to choose the works I wanted to spend time with. That to me is the essence of art. It's all in the eye of the beholder at his, or her, time and place of choosing.

A pertinent digression: Once many years ago, a friend who made his living giving motivational lectures invited us to join him for a weekend at a fancy resort in the Poconos, where he was holding forth. Our primitive log cabin, because it was "free," stood on stilts (we called it "Little Nairobi") and my wife and I slept on bunk beds and took cold showers (we had no choice. My friend Tom and his wife, to their embarrassment, were given the best the resort had to offer. But we had the better end of the deal. We were isolated amongst towering pines and arboreal swamps. During our early morning meanderings we came on a small tarn, a bit like Steamboat Lake, if you will. Not far from shore there appeared to be some kind of aquatic animal was it a beaver, or an otter, we asked? But as we approached the shoreline, we heard some very unnatural sounds (the lush harmonies of Tchaikovsky or Debussy), and educed that they were coming at us directly from the "beaver," which in fact was a speaker set up in the lake to surround us and our fellow travelers with soothing sounds to accompany those that Nature had to offer.

If we'd had a choice, we would have shut down the artificial sound system and concentrated on the sounds produced by the natural habitat. But alas, we had no choice and had to share serendipity with the preordained. Well, it wasn't Colorado and those in the motivated New Jersey audience likely were not content in quiet isolation. But for us, who would have preferred to spend time hiking the hut system in the unpredictable White Mountains of New Hampshire, it was an intrusion, a reminder that inspiration here was but a flick of the Muzak dial by some unseen entertainment director. True solace was to remain remote and undiscovered. We followed the well-marked path to the large buffet breakfast, where we met our friends. It was free, after all.

I find something of the same phenomenon here in Steamboat, where well-meaning art connoisseurs have chosen to pepper the Core Trail along the Yampa with selected works of art with landscapes as backdrops. At first blush, what a wonderful idea. If you're visiting the Poconos.

Now understand, I don't object to the art itself. Just as I would never suggest that the works of the classical composers were anything but awe-inspiring. In their place. But I value my right to choose what I see and listen to. And when. Absolutely. Unequivocally. And if I wish to spend time alone with nature, along the Yampa, in my spare time, with no distractions other than my respectful fellow human beings, then I believe that is my God-given right.

Andy Rooney once uncovered a study, undertaken by Ph.D.s at government expense, that concluded that "bugs are a negative factor" to the overall enjoyment of a vacation. I would like to add Muzak in the Poconos, and art objects along the Yampa, to that list. It will cost you nothing.

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