Wayside beauty

Donald, British Columbia

One of the things that is constantly, and wonderfully, borne in on me as I travel is how utterly beautiful our world is. Everywhere I go, there is beauty easily at hand. And for someone who spends as much time driving from place to place as I do, the gorgeous scene along so many roads is as important as the beauty that can be found hiking into the wilderness.

Hatcher’s Pass, Alaska

While I can’t hear birds or crickets, or silence, or smell sagebrush, or feel a soft breeze while I’m in the truck, I can see dappled sunlight in forests, mountains with crowns of clouds, deserts stretching to the horizon, streams flowing past, cascading waterfalls. I can see the history of the planet in the jagged upthrusts of rock, and the millions-year-old canyons cut by patient rivers. I can see storms in the distance, sunsets, slivers of moon.

On the Dempster Highway, north to the Arctic Ocean, through Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon Territory

This tends not to be true of the places where we live. Our willingness to meet the grandeur of the world with strip malls, box stores, glass office buildings and square houses on flat rugs of grass means that getting off the road in a habited place is often an exit from the sublime into dreariness. Because the landscape gets wilder and wilder as you go north, the roads in British Columbia, the Yukon, and Alaska are startlingly beautiful. Mile on mile of the wonders of the world.

Route 1 between Anchorage and Matanuska Glacier, Alaska

Driving through all that wayside beauty has a bewitching effect: the catch of breath and expanding heart that comes as a snow-capped volcano rises from shimmering blue water happens over and over again. Around another bend magenta flowers frame a glacier in the distance. Another bend, sunlight glitters on the cascade of water down a lush, green coastal slope,

Golden, British Columbia

Driving becomes an open heart meditation. Even after a whole day, and a complaining back, it can be hard to stop and return to the reality of towns, RV parks, dinner. We are here to see this, to be the consciousness of the universe reflecting on itself, to be participants in its continual unfolding.

Autumn starts along the Dempster Highway, to road to the Arctic Ocean, in Yukon Territory
Autumn starts along the Dempster Highway, the road to the Arctic Ocean, in Yukon Territory. The white in the foreground is lichen.

Of course, it’s best to be out in it, not driving through it. But since traveling around requires plenty of the latter, I’m celebrating the great gift of the moving panorama I can see from the road. Magically lit mountains, still water at twilight, the coming of fall on the Yukon road to the Arctic, clouds, rivers, reflections.

Route 97, going south, in British Columbia

The Irish poet John O’Donohue said that one of the gifts of the Celtic imagination is that landscape isn’t just matter, that it’s as alive as we are, in a totally different form. It may be that my love of the earth is a legacy of my Irish heritage. But most, if not all, indigenous cultures feel the same way, and, not so long ago, we were all indigenous to a living landscape somewhere on our planet.

The Columbia River near Kamloops, British Columbia, a surprise landscape of sagebrush and high desert.

Perhaps it’s this ancestral sense of kinship with a vibrant world, of emerging from it, being an integral part of it, that gets stirred when we leave our settlements, and go out into a landscape that speaks to us of history, endless beauty, mystery, presence.

Across Cook Inlet from the parking lot at Captain Cook State Park, Kenai, Alaska
Across Cook Inlet from the parking lot at Captain Cook State Park, Kenai, Alaska

(The photo collections from my Alaska adventure are now up on the Galleries page.)

14 thoughts on “Wayside beauty”

  1. Hello, Betsy: My brother, John Boettiger, wrote me about your work. I have just taken some peeks, and am so grateful to you for sharing such beauty – comments, reflections, and photos. What adentures you had, and are having, finding our worlds, near doorsteps and along our highways. Thank you. Ellie

    1. Thank you, Ellie. I’m so happy to welcome you here. I seem to remember John telling me that he’d like to introduce us, so I’m delighted he did.

  2. Here is my compliment: I can’t tell the difference between you and the living landscape. So your “celebration” is complete, completely successful, completely engaging and completely engulfing.
    When Carl Safina wrote his first book, “Song for the Blue Ocean,” his amazed, yet-of-course-admiring, mother asked him, “Who wrote the title?” (Carl quietly smiles.) So, in that spirit, I’ll ask, “Who took the photos?” : )
    Ineffable is all I have to say. I hope they are copyrighted, flickerized or whatever.
    Kudos to you for doing this — AND sending via e-post. And kudos to me for responding — with this doable form. Send more, so I can take small rests between by nose-to-grindstone.
    (ps These darn computers think they know it all. So if one of my words like “flickerized” comes out as “flickered,” blame it on them. They, with no soul of the earth. As my NYT editor used to call me and say, “Forgive the Time-eze editing of your excellent writing by my mignons.” kb (as in KB Madigan-McCormick)

  3. It is a breathtakingly beautiful and alive experience to take in your post! I love your words of wisdom- “We are here to see this, to be the consciousness of the universe reflecting on itself, to be participants in its continual unfolding.” It gives me goosebumps. Thank you for the gift of awakening consciousness through your words and images!

  4. Dear Betsey,

    Now that I continue as follower and friend, I continue to savor the depth, integration and beauty of your prose and photographs. “Wayside beauty” is stunning. I’ll be leading a small midweek meditation group here this afternoon, and will share your wayside with my fellowship. These days I travel less than you, and my feet are my main mode, but I still take to the road and always the wayside beauty. I’ll be driving to spend a couple of weeks at Thanksgiving with children and grandchildren in Oregon, with many stops at the wayside.

    Warm wishes,


    1. Thank you so much, John. I’m delighted to be part of your group’s meditation. Once beyond the cities, the trip to Oregon is so beautiful.

  5. Never has “Oh… My God…” seemed so totally appropriate as right this minute…

    One of Dr. Seuss’ last books was titled, “Oh, The Places You’ll Go.” I so often think of that when I see, and read, your posts.

    The book! I WANT THE BOOK!! YOUR BOOK!!!

    MLAA, Dear Friend

    1. Capt George Wilson

      Ahoy, I was a co-pilot on some of these miles…Let those who have eyes let them see through a glass clearly.
      :Behold I make all things new”..Peace my love GAW

    2. Thank you so much for this wonderful enthusiasm! I love that book, too. My favorite line is when he sends him off ‘with a head full of brains and shoes full of feet.’

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