Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park

Ignoring parks a natural mistake

July 13, 2009, 7:27 am

"Art is nothing as to nature," Bernard Pomerance wrote in his play, "The Elephant Man." A dozen years since I last saw it -- a dark, circuslike production at the Theatre Building on Belmont Avenue -- but the line must have tucked itself away in a fold in the brain, because it came back as we stood on soft, cracked, dove-gray dry mud and swept our eyes across this marvelous moonscape of buttes, ravines and canyon walls.

"Art is nothing as to nature, boys," I announced to my two sons who, accustomed to living with a blowhard prone to quoting bits of doggerel at them, said nothing.

The odd thing -- the sad thing -- is that it never would have occurred to me to come here, to go out of my way to visit this surreal corner of our country, had I not been in the neighborhood anyway, driving down a nearby stretch of Interstate 90 and needing to stop somewhere.

Which seems now like such a lapse, such an inversion of priorities. As a guy who once flew to New York City to see a Flemish painting (Petrus Christus' "Portrait de Jeune Fille," if you must know) you'd think I'd be methodically traveling the world, soaking up its splendors. That it would have occurred to me, before the age of 49, to notch a few national parks onto my belt, on general aesthetic principles.

But it didn't -- to me, there was always something dubious about those who seek out natural wonders, who hike up mountains and grovel before waterfalls.

The Sun-Times regrets the error.