All the Colors Mix Together to Grey

It’s snowing here in Pittsburgh–been coming down for hours in a fineSnow powder, resulting in a monochromatic morning. Just like everywhere else in the country, there hasn’t been much real winter here this season. I’m pretty sure that this is only the third or fourth substantial coating so far. The slow start to the day has allowed me to continue with some thoughts from my travels yesterday.

I’ve driven the route from DC to Pittsburgh at least half a dozen times for the last 17 years or so. I’ve come to know the landscape of Western Maryland and West Virginia along Route 68 fairly well. Unlike the mess and stress that is the Pennsylvania Turnpike, I find this a remarkably renewing drive. The landscape itself has a lot to do with it. The route literally cuts through the mountains rising from Frederick to Sidling Hill and then Town Hill and across to Garrett County and on to Morgantown. As a result, I get a good deal of time with dairy and evergreen farms and occasional mining sites that roll along the horizon to the left and right, punctuated by the sheared layers of rock that rise up on the edges of the highway as it slices through the mountains. Some days this is a brilliant green scene of new vibrancy, but at this time of year, it is a scene with a muted pallet–browns and greys, scrub and trees stripped of their foliage.The Ark And, that’s just the way I like it. The barrenness of the winter landscape leaves me space to think.

Just as it should be, particularly given the occasion for my journey. I was on my way to hear Maya Lin speak about her art, architecture, and memorials at the Carnegie Museum of Art. Her talk was the launch event for the installation of her current traveling exhibit at the Heinz Architectural Center. I’d seen the remarkable works in the exhibit when it was at the Corcoran a few years ago. True to form, it is art of the landscape, reflecting actual places in the world, both above and below the surface of the land and the water line, made of wood, particle board, recycled silver, wire, and pins. And, her talk was a discussion of the ways that landscapes and environments are constantly in flux, and how her work tries to illuminate the spaces of absence and void more than anything else.

Lin’s theme for the evening rolled into an introduction of her new project: whatismissing.net, which offers us all a chance to think about the ways that we are actively causing pieces of our natural world to disappear. She invites us to pause and question what is missing from our environment, and to remember those elements as a step to making a commitment to change.

LandscapeRoute 68 is a landscape of sparsity and I’m sure that there are legions of species missing in this region. For me, over the course of the last nearly twenty years, it has been a place for my mind to roam, working through difficult places in critical projects and important relationships, meditating on the deeply incarnational aspects of natural world–some of which only appear in the grey. New work emerges from the grey.

About Sharon Leon

Sharon M. Leon is Director of Public Projects at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media and Associate Professor of History at George Mason University. Her research interests include the history of religion in the U.S., especially Roman Catholicism, history of science and twentieth century cultural history. She received her bachelor's degree from Georgetown University and her doctorate in American Studies at the University of Minnesota in 2004. Her first book, An Image of God: the Catholic Struggle with Eugenics, was published by the University of Chicago Press in 2013.
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2 Responses to All the Colors Mix Together to Grey

  1. Great post, Sharon! Having been on that same route many a time (but not in a while), I like your evocation of it–truly a way to transition from the East Coast to the country’s midsection.

    As a side note, wonder when Noah’s Ark will be completed?!

  2. Sharon Leon says:

    That Ark has been in the I-beam stage for as long as I can remember, and I love it. I also love how nicely it goes with the lighthouse church on the other side of Town Hill. That used to be a big speedboat show room, but now it’s World Lighthouse Worship Center. I spend a lot of this drive thinking about the landscape and religion, so it’s fitting that there is so much American religious innovation along the way.

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