Do you have a landscape story?

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    Dean Hill, ASLA

    For one reason or another, most of us entered into this profession because of some external influence, either consciously or subconsciously. Was it a specific place, an experience, a trip or a collection of memories? What landscapes have inspired and influenced you both professionally and personally? Have these landscapes inspired you to visit? If not, what medium (magazine, book, movie, photography, memory) has influenced your admiration? Why are these landscapes important to you and what makes them so special?

    Tell me your landscape story…


    I grew up in Maine, a place I’d also call home to some of greatest unspoiled tracts of undeveloped land in the United States. As a boy I spent much of my time playing games in the woods that separated our backyards from the huge Olmstedian Evergreen cemetary beyond. There were places to hide, hills to conquer, ponds to get your feet soaked in November and ample space to run as fast as a seven year old boy could in flooded galoshes.

    By the time I turned 9 years old my parents had separated and we moved to a different part of Portland. Still, I found myself enveloped by deep, dark and expansive stands of hardwoods interjected by gleaming granite ledge and peaty bogs. In the summer my friends and I would spend all day marking and cutting new trails to race our bikes. Naturally, we cut trails with low-impact practice since our fathers tool shed was typically off limits to each of us except for a few shovels, picks, and leaf rakes.

    By age 10 I was learning to ski in the Mahoosucs Range of western Maine, spending every weekend from November to April adventuring on snow. I became very passionate very quickly about skiing. Riding a chairlift up into the forest was a sublime escape for my preteen soul from the doldrums of homework and a complicated family life. The mountains were a natural lift to my spirit and the challenge of the runs taught me self-reliance, responsibillty, and respect for myself and nature. In the evenings along the drive home we would stop to drop off skis for tuning or just to browse the latest gear and small talk with the ski technicians about the next Nor’Easter. At the entrance to nearly every ski shop was always a metal rack packed with brochures advertising the thrills awaiting atop hundreds of individual ski areas that dotted the norther New England landscape. Inside each brochure was a trail map, usually painted from a high aerial perspective of the ski area by the well-known artist James Neuss. I collected the maps by the dozens and brought them home to pin on my bedroom wall, studying them each night before bed. Before long I began drawing my own trails maps of ski hills I imagined with cliffs, bowls, cirques and endless powder snow. When drawing the maps were not enough I constructed mountains with blankets and pillows from the couch and taped miniature skis to the feet of my GI Joes which I fashioned from the sides of old shoe boxes.

    When spring arrived and the ski areas shut down operations for the season we continued to take drives each Sunday north and west through New Hampshire and Vermont. The Presidential Range of northern New Hampshires White Mountains was introduced to me on a warm spring day in May as the objective for my first backcountry ski trip to an infamous cirque high on the east flanks of Mount Washington’s frozen shoulders. Tuckerman Ravine was a place each expert skier in New England made a pilgrimage to each spring. Upon entering Mount Washington valley, I was immediately captivated by the history and beauty of the place. Skiers, mountaineers, and tourists mixed along a well preserved main street in the nearby town of North Conway. The atmosphere was magical. Climbing the Tuckerman Ravine trail from Pinkham Notch felt like setting off on a first ascent of K2, in a very New England down-home flavor. Entire families carried skis on their packs next to young men in tennis shoes hulking cases of beer along the rock-strewn ravine trail. Everyone gathered again in the high bowl approximately four miles and two and a half hours later at a place called Lunch Rocks. Here, in


    Here, in May, skiers and non-skiers alike gathered to watch neon-clad superhero skiers of the 90’s hurl themselves down 55 degree snowfields and chutes littered with granite cliff bands and looming cornices. As a skier tumbled at high speed the crowd would cheer. Each year, several deaths plagued the ravine due mostly to natural occurrences like avalanche and icefall. I learned to take risk and respect the value of nature.

    During the drives home I sat slouched over a drawing pad and pen in the backseat of my parents car drawing the houses and landscapes I saw outside the window.

    I feel so lucky to have been raised in a place like Maine and exposed at such a young age to so many wonderful natural places as well as learning to appreciate the heritage of the historic cities and towns of New England.

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