Saturday, February 11, 2012

The trouble with names.

One of my first impressions of Zion National Park is that it lacks subtlety. The mountains here grow up out of the flat ground without the transition of foothills or gentle slopes that I am accustomed to. The bare rock faces stare back at you as you enter the park – holding your gaze – daring you to look away - making it nearly impossible for you to watch the road or notice any other feature of the landscape.

The names here lack subtlety as well. “Zion,” “The Watchman,” “Mount Majestic,” “Abraham Peak,” “Isaac Peak,” “Jacob Peak,” “Weeping Rock,” “Cathedral Mountain,” and “The Pulpit,” to name just a few. What this place is supposed to evoke is not left up to the imagination. Park visitors – those who are believers in one of the religions that are intertwined with the biblical texts – come here knowing what they will find. Their awe and godly inspiration are predetermined.

As a non-believer these names have an alienating effect on me - make me wonder if I should be here. The feeling is not dissimilar to the few times I have been in a church since losing my religion at a young age. I did not expect to feel this when I was proposing and planning my stay in Zion. I thought such names would stay in my periphery and only figure in as a cheeky juxtaposition to the chaos of my landscape drawings. I am an American non-believer after all, I have to put up with references to god at every turn of my civic life, I should be used to it. But here at Zion I feel like a rat in a maze, trying to find my way out of this religiosity. The dichotomy here is hard to skirt. I have no choice but to confront it.

After a few days of trying to draw these blunt, attention-grabbing mountains, I have shifted my focus. Instead looking where all of the arrows and signs are pointing me, instead of looking at what is named, I am looking where the deer and fox are pointing me. I am using their trails, trying to see what they see. I imagine they have their own names for things here that might make a lot more sense to me than the biblically derived ones.

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