Country Living Series

Monday, December 30, 2013

Let's hear it for "despairing desolation"

Here's an interesting photographic essay that appeared on the United Kingdom's Daily Mail entitled Rural bliss... or despairing desolation? As it turns out, this English newspaper was depicting photographs of our backyard, namely the Palouse region.

For those unfamiliar with it, the Palouse is a vast (about 3000 square miles), rolling, mostly treeless region that encompasses parts of eastern Washington and western Idaho. It's heavily agricultural, growing enormous amounts of wheat, lentils, and other dryland field crops. I had never heard of it until we moved to its borders, but now I'm enamored of it.

The photographer who took the shots featured in the Daily Mail article overlaid multiple photos and digitally manipulated the landscape to make it look as brooding and forbidden as possible. She terms it "abstract realism" and I suppose all artistic types like to tweak reality here and there... though why she would choose to depict such a beautiful area to look so forbidding is anyone's guess. (I urge you to go to the Daily Mail link to see her work.)

My gripe about this representation of the Palouse in such a far-away place as the U.K. is that it gives the people of that fine nation a misunderstanding of the true nature of our region. In reality, the Palouse is beautiful. Absolutely breathtaking. I suppose to those used to crowded urban areas, the vast rolling treeless hills could be considered "despairing desolation," but it's captured the attention of many, many renowned artists and photographers. Go into any local bookstore and there's usually a section devoted to photographic essays of the Palouse, depicting its beauty.

In fact one of my favorite local artists, Andy Sewell, has partially built his career by taking artistic advantage of the Palouse. Of his many fine paintings, this is one of my favorites. I've seen the original photo on which this painting is based, and believe me, there's no exaggeration. It's that beautiful. (Some of his other paintings can be seen here.)

Ironically the Daily Mail did feature some nice photographs of the Palouse a couple of months ago. I must say I prefer these photographic depictions over the other "despairing and desolate" ones.

Or maybe I shouldn't praise the Palouse too highly. I guess those grim and despairing photos might help keep tourism down and keep our corner of the world quiet and undiscovered.


  1. Thanks for the nice comments Patrice, I still have on my list of things to paint another shot of your gorgeous rooster, and the shots of the calf with mama in the daisies. That was a neat time to get to visit you! I will let you know if/when I get to paint these. -Andy

  2. "Or maybe I shouldn't praise the Palouse too highly. I guess those grim and despairing photos might help keep tourism down and keep our corner of the world quiet and undiscovered. "

    Patrice, those were my exact thoughts as I read the post. Desolate is good, imho


  3. I have had the great pleasure of driving through the Palouse many times. Have always considered the Palouse, a bit of heaven on earth.
    Shhhhhhh...don't tell anyone!!

  4. I don't know -- I thought both sets of photos were mind bending and beautiful. Though, whoever wrote the captions doesn't know the difference between an American Farmhouse and an American Barn.

    The term "despairing desolation" must have come from the editors, not the artist. (I wonder if the editors think the UK's ever-gloomy, mostly-treeless moors and heaths are "despairing" in their desolation.)

    When I looked at those Palouse photos, I felt abiding reverence from the artist for a region that she can't stay away from for too long.

    Also, Sewel's work is inspirational. I'll have to put a visit to the Palouse on my Bucket List.

    Just Me

  5. I thought the photos were beautiful! I also felt the article was praising the beauty of the area. I've been to the Palouse many times...I love the region and the history.

  6. ttabs,an avid trike flyer has many videos of this region and it is a breathtaking area.Check them out on you tube....

    had enuff

  7. I liked the photos by Lisa Wood just as well as the ones of the other photographer, if not more. I thought they were very artistically done and beautiful. I certainly don't think of despair or desolation when I look at them. They are the type of photo that makes me want to look long and soak it in. :) I would love to visit the Palouse!

  8. Don't give away our secrets! As someone who grew up on the 'Wet' side of Washington, living on the edge of the Palouse took some getting used to. My wife, a New England girl, took to it right away.

    And the author didn't try very hard...there are some much more desolate areas than that they could have taken pictures of...not a coulee in sight.

  9. I grew up on another prairie in Idaho- the Kamas Prairie, south and east of your area, is also beautiful and amazing. We would drive through the Palouse to get to Spokane to go school shopping. There is nothing desolate or despairing about either of those areas!
    If you want to see barren and desolate look at where I now live- in central Utah, high desert and beautiful in its own way. NOT beautiful enough for anyone to want to move here, though, if you get my drift.

  10. I think these so called desolate pictures are beautiful. They are like a refined countryside of England

  11. I've only been up there in winter on a round trip from Boise to Sandpoint, with a few days staying about an hour north of Lewiston both ways. Very snowy going, which created a stunning landscape. Much had melted on the return. Snow was patchy, so lots of bare ground and some mud. Still beautiful. Some people don't get it. Living in AZ, lots don't understand the desert, either. Good. Let them stay east of the Mississippi!!!

  12. I spent one year in the Ft. Lewis area of WA. My internal compass did not work. Hated it. Our acreage had a clearing for our house and that was it. I felt as though I, too, would soon grow moss.
    We eventually moved to the Thunder Basin Grasslands in Wyoming, where I could see 70+ miles east to the Black Hills and 70+ miles west to the Big Horn Mountains. The openness would make me dizzy with happiness. Can you imagine how long the sun shone on me? But work hours for my husband caused us to move to our little cabin in the Big Horn Mountains. I'm not as enclosed by the trees as I was in WA but we are smack up against the foothills, so close I can't actually see the snowy peaks unless we drive down the hill and to the east. When my truck clears the trees and begins the decent and I see the open valley I can feel a surge of peacefulness come over me.
    We drove across the Palouse in June. I didn't want to leave. Now we are looking for our property in ID but finding one with both trees for hubby and openness for me is challenging.
    When we visit folks in the midwest and they tell us about how bad the weather in Wyoming is, and how awful it must be to live there, we just agree with them, inwardly laughing at one of the best kept secrets of beauty and low population density.
    The pictures are grand. I guess I just love desolation, LOL. Getting ready for another whiteout version.

  13. Not sure if my comment posted and apologize if this is a duplicate.

    I spent one year in western WA. My internal compass did not work and for a woman who uses N-S-E-W for directions this was a huge issue. Finally got to the Thunder Basin grasslands of Wyoming where I could see 70+ miles east to the Black Hills and 70+ miles west to the Big Horn Mts. The rolling hills and buttes were heaven on earth. Hubby's job led us to move to our cabin in the mountains where I now am smack dab up against the craggy foothills of the mountains, so close I can't see the snowy peaks. When I drive to town and clear the trees on the way down, the valley below causes me to relax and stretch my soul out, gulping in the view of the rolling hills and dancing sunshine. I know how privileged I am to get to live in such beauty.
    When my eastern relatives lament how awful the weather is where I live, I just agree. No sense trying to convince those who are not called to be here that the beauty and low population are worth the winters, which we love. I can dress for killer cold and waist deep snow but can no longer get Primatene mist to help me live through a visit to the midwest and it's killer-to-me molds.
    Those pictures were breathtakingly beautiful. We drove across the Palouse in June and are now looking for our own piece of ID. Of course, we not only want grass but trees, too, as we are hard core heat with wood fans. I guess our Army brat lives and hubby's Army career have made us a bit of wanderlusts, LOL.
    Thanks Patrice. I fear the pics are good enough to be a tourism pamphlet trying to incite travel to Idaho for people like myself.

  14. I think the "desolation" headline was totally editorial - it doesn't have anything to do with the photos themselves, or the photographer's vision, from what I can see. The artist had a lot to say about the beauty of the region and how it makes her think of eternity. I am not surprised that an editor at the Guardian might find peaceful nature and the contemplation of eternity to be frightening or desolate.

  15. Hate to disagree but I thought here pictures were beautiful. Anyway be thankful for all the negative advertising your part of the country gets it will keep the interlopers out.

  16. Please don't take the Daily Mail's headline to heart. The journalists they employ are complete dunderheads and cannot cope with anything even slightly outside London!
    They once described the island of Anglesey in Wales as remote and isolated. They overlooked the fact that 50,000 people live on it with the city of Bangor just minutes away. Not to mention the fact that it is also the main shipping route to and from Ireland through the port of Holyhead!
    I am astonished that they found Idaho let alone the Palouse, which is truly beautiful, the pictures do not do it justice.
    If the good folks of the USA ever consign the TSA to the dustbin we will be doing another coast to coast tour of your lovely country.

  17. Having lived in Europe for a few years and seen their little cars and little roads and little houses I do not find it surprising that they don't understand wide open spaces. Fact is, they probably fear it a little bit.
    -Old Soldier

  18. Maybe beauty is in the eye of the bolder, but I loved both sets of pictures. They were both beautiful in their own way. However, I will confess that I made a trip from Waco, Texas, to Brownwood, Texas in the middle of the winter several years and commented to someone that the landscape was beautiful. I was told that probably the only other people who thought that were residents and not too many of them. Like the Palouse the area has few buildings, trees or residents, but the gentle roll of the land and the occasional mesas are wonderful.

  19. As a European who has all the little things 'Anon' two comments above refers to, I think the photos are stunning and beautiful. The caption 'aside from tracks of farm machinery there is no sign of human activity' sounds like bliss to me.
    We have plenty of empty, what this newspaper might call 'desolate' landscapes in Scotland. You'll see some of my favourites under the 'Shetland' tab here:

  20. Hi new follower here..good grief take no notice of that newspaper..over here its nickname is the daily fail..i love the wide open spaces and long to be in them alone with my family..
    The paper in question gets a lot of stick for spelling mistakes..crappy pictures and wrong facts..