I was at the Denver Art Museum recently and found myself on the sixth floor with the Eastern art—Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Buddhist. I’ve always loved traditional Asian art because of its delicacy, its portrait of a way of life that appreciates, even elevates, the small bits of beauty: a delicate watercolor of a single branch with a few cherry blossoms or a perfectly shaped teapot. Even something as prosaic as a lunch box is elevated into a piece of layered bamboo art.
My favorites are the paintings of a solitary house perched on the edge of a stream below an impossibly steep and yet at the same time delicate mountain. Inside a holy man or poet sits in contemplation (or sometimes drunkenness). In the paintings, much of the canvas is left blank, so the viewer can let her imagination drift off into the clouds behind the mountains. To me, this art evokes a way of life that hardly exists in the 21st century. The paintings have a stillness or hush, an appreciative contemplation of beauty but also of simplicity.
It’s a far cry from the world outside the windows of the museum where downtown Denver looks dirty on a gray wintry day. Streets criss-cross and overlap, with cars going in every direction. Homeless people mill around City Park, toting their gatherings in shopping carts. On nearby I-25, cars speed along while the world passes in a blur: large outlet stores, high-rises, factories.
But the other world, the one of delicacy and simplicity, is one I try to recreate at my cabin. I’m not sitting by waterfalls composing poetry and letting the sheafs of poems drift down the river, and I’m not holding tea ceremonies. But I try to simplify my life there as much as possible, keeping the cabin as free from clutter as I can, the better to admire the early morning sunlight on the ponderosas (above) or the white-barked aspens framed by the bedroom window. Without other distractions, I can contentedly watch the snow drift down in big thick flakes in winter or aspen leaves float down the creek in fall (left, above).
Without the noise of the city, I can hear the loud call of the Stellar’s jay or the sound of the wind. And there’s emptiness, too, like in the Japanese paintings, enough to let my mind float up and out, unencumbered.
Since I discovered Japanese art in college, I’ve always wanted to enter into the delicate world of these paintings, find the place where poets sit in small shacks next to steep waterfalls. Maybe aspen leaves floating down the creek aren’t the same as cherry blossoms, and the rugged Rocky Mountains don’t really resemble the delicate Japanese landscape, but in every other way I’ve found my Japanese landscape in the Colorado Rockies.