Currently reading Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape by Barry Lopez (1985) Fascinating read from this essayist and traveller.  Just into the chapter on “Ice and Light” where he introduces the large painting of Frederic Edwin Church called The Icebergs. The picture is part of the collection at Dallas Museum of Art.  See here.

Barry Lopez writes:

“Church’s decision to add the broken mast to The Icebergs speaks, certainly, to his commercial instincts, but in addition, I think, is more complex than this; and such a judgment is both too cynical and too simple.

Try as we might, we ultimately can make very little sense at all of nature without resorting to such devices.  Whether they are bald assertions of human presence as Church’s cruciform mast or the intangible, metaphorical tools of the mind – contrast, remembrance, analogy – we bring our own worlds to bear in foreign landscapes in order to clarify them for ourselves.  It is hard to imagine that we could do otherwise.  The risk we take is of finding our final authority in the metaphors rather than in the land.  To inquire into the intricacies of a distant landscape, then, is to provoke thoughts about one’s own interior landscape, and the familiar landscapes of memory.  The land urges us to come around to an understanding of ourselves.”

There: a description of conscious awareness.