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Visual illusions and borrowed views

Anna Naeser

Had this chain of hotels unaccountably acquired good art for their guest rooms? The view as I walked into my room at dusk was arresting. A large vertical rectangle of plate glass presented a sharply delineated expanse of dried out shortgrass prairie flushed with eerie light, surmounted just above the horizon by broad colored bands like a horizontal rainbow, dissolving into a huge deepening indigo sky. It was the sort of landscape local artist Tanya Dibbs might paint, empty, idiosyncratic, untouched by humans. It was all an illusion of course, like many wonderful views, including some of the best ones from my house.I pulled a chair close to the window. The air conditioner cycled off and my eyes and ears registered that my prairie was just a pizza shaped triangle of frontage wasteland with the hotel on the crust edge and an interstate on either side! I already knew that the afterglow cast obliquely on the pale monochrome grasses was the residue of a sunset magnified and made spectacular by carbon dioxide emissions and wildfire smoke. Later I gingerly investigated the “prairie” up close. Most of it was cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) or familiar dryland weeds like foxtail barley, Russian thistle and catchweed, all listed in Weeds of the West, all colonizers of roadsides, disturbed ground and overgrazed rangeland – and all of them prickly. I went back to the bed, put the pillows behind my back and watched the darkness gradually extinguish my magnificent view.In Dresden, my relatives Gisela and Wolfgang have turned a community garden plot – “Schrebergarten” in German – into a summer retreat complete with fruit trees, masses of flowers and even a little garden house. In the heart of the city, they have transformed a tiny balcony off their apartment in an unadorned Soviet-era building into a miniature conservatory. With a space smaller than most people could comprehend in our land of giant houses and doublewides, and a budget to match, they have created an inspiring and unique view from their living area, shielding themselves from overlooking windows, filtering street noise and pollution, modifying weather extremes and reducing energy use. They enclose the space with glass when it gets cold. Flowering plants stand in pots on the floor and table, drip from planters and hang from the walls, while the doorway is festooned with vines. They send me photos to show off and keep me in awe. Since all the rooms on the north side of my house are underground and windowless, a skylight was installed in the bathroom to bring in some light. It is pure serendipity that a fine swatch of Colorado sky and a stand of magnificent mature spruces visible through the skylight are reflected in the mirror. This is the borrowed view par excellence.I love to watch the stately trees move in windy weather as I brush my teeth or wash my hands. Every time I pass the mirror during the day, I notice them and am thankful for the gift. The bathroom is a small room, so I can see the spruces from the bathtub too, and soaking sore gardening muscles as day fades into evening is a rare pleasure. At night, with all the lights off, stars appear in the firmament of the skylight and if I set candles around the tub, the light bounces around, glancing off the mirror, and every porcelain and glass surface, magically filling the air with flickering flames. I never dreamed a windowless bathroom could be so bright and comfortable. When it was renovated, an idea or two on the wish list had to be given up and there was lots of juggling so none of the reflections would be lost.I can keep living in small-town Basalt and ignore an illogical hankering for “some land” of my own, because the illusion of privacy and remoteness I have fostered satisfies my predilection for solitude. You might be lucky enough to have big old trees, for example, to appropriate for your view. Maybe you face Red Mountain or have a glimpse of Independence Pass. Moving the breakfast table or patio chairs around, or finding a different spot to put them altogether, perhaps an unconventional one, can change your whole perception of the world around you. Anything and everything can camouflage or enhance, redirect the eye or shift attention. So if you don’t like your view, make a new one! Anna gardens and enjoys the view in Basalt. Send your comments to annasgarden@sopris.net or mail@aspentimes.com with “Anna’s Garden” in the e-mail subject line.


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