Pentimento

noun, [pen-tuh-men-toh] Painting. The presence or emergence of earlier images, forms, or strokes that have been changed and painted over.

(From Wikipedia) “A pentimento is an alteration in a painting, evidenced by traces of previous work, showing that the artist has changed his or her mind as to the composition during the process of painting. The word is Italian for repentance, from the verb pentirsi, meaning to repent.”IMG_6425

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I love this word.   I remember it from Lillian Hellman’s book by the same name.  It’s what I think of every time I see a picture of the little Double Arch Alcove at the end of the Taylor Creek trail in the Kolob Canyons section of Zion National Park.   The alcove is not so small really, until you compare it to some of the vast expanses of towering giants, the painted red rock walls in the main canyon of Zion, which then makes Double Arch Alcove seem like a painting in miniature.   But to stand and study it in detail makes me think of Nature’s pentimento.  It’s as if she had but this one small canvas…yet couldn’t decide what to make of it.  So the wall contains layers and layers of variegated brush strokes over the curved arch of canvas, each stroke covering previous attempts to adorn the landscape beneath it.

Taylor Creek is 5 mile RT hike in Kolob Canyon section of Zion.

Taylor Creek is 5 mile RT hike in Kolob Canyon section of Zion.

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IMG_6413The Taylor Creek trail is located in the much lesser trafficked Kolob Canyon section of Zion National Park.   Although it shares a common boundary with the main part of the Zion, we must drive out to the I-15 freeway and go 40 miles north to a separate entrance to access this section of the park.  It’s my first visit to this area which is known for greater wilderness, fewer tourists.  But given the lack of maintained trails, Taylor Creek turns out to have the most people we have seen thus far.   Still, it’s a fun, easy trail, as it crosses the stream between 30 and 40 times according to the trail description.

There have been lots of conversations on the trail this year about “color.”   Some hues just seem outrageous, more so than I remember from last year.  Particularly the blues of the skies and the intense reds that come about as a result of a cold, clear autumn day.   Attempts to describe the hues have spurned labels like “Impossible Blue” and “Surreal-ean Blue” (Cerulean) as we grapple with a way to describe the depth and intensity in Zion’s palatte.

The Larson Cabin, 1930's homestead.

The Larson Cabin, 1930’s homestead.

Homesteaders raised sheep and goats along the creek.

Homesteaders raised sheep and goats along the creek.

Fife Cabin, Circa 1930's

Fife Cabin, Circa 1930’s

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Also up for discussion is the portrayal of these colors through photography, and the use of saturation.   How much is too much?  Ideally, one would use saturation to manipulate the photo to more closely resemble what was seen with the naked eye.  Only instead of increasing, we discuss the need to decrease.  There is no need to saturate, as Nature is doing that for us.  The sun lighting up one red cliff casts an unnatural, intense orange glow on the opposing red cliff, causing the red glow to reverberate, even reflecting back onto the trail.  We could be walking on the set of “The Martian’s” red planet.

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And the blue of the skies in Utah is like no place I have ever seen.  The term “sky blue” would represent a washed out, hazy day in Zion.  Instead, the color as a back drop against the snow white and rose red sandstone looks more like Indigo, somewhere in between blue and violet.
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In the end, it doesn’t really matter if the photo has been embellished; if saturation has increased or decreased.  What really matters is the memory it evokes to the photographer.  The one that stood there on that cold, damp autumn day and looked through the lens, knowing the camera would never do justice to the place, but hoping instead it would evoke some memory at a later date…”to see again.”  The lighting, the cold, the damp, the wind, the distance of the trail are all just layers of paint of a different day.  What lies within is what counts.  Beneath the pentimento.

“Old paint on a canvas, as it ages, sometimes becomes transparent. When that happens it is possible, in some pictures, to see the original lines: a tree will show through a woman’s dress, a child makes way for a dog, a large boat is no longer on an open sea. That is called pentimento because the painter “repented,” changed his mind. Perhaps it would be as well to say that the old conception, replaced by a later choice, is a way of seeing and then seeing again. That is all I mean about the people in this book. The paint has aged and I wanted to see what was there for me once, what is there for me now.”
― Lillian Hellman, Pentimento

Kolob Canyon

Kolob Canyon

14 thoughts on “Pentimento

  1. Beyond “painting” and Zion’s geological “evolution” and “layers,” Pentimento seems a good word for changes in “life.” Pentimento to the People…
    Good word, good analogy.
    Box Canyon

  2. Beautifully shot, beautifully said.

    I have the distinct impression that all of the National Parks have more visitors than in the past (even just five years past). So “less visited” doesn’t mean the same thing it used to.

  3. Still following Suzanne. I dont always comment because it just sounds as if I am repeating myself especially when commenting about the stunning photos. The rock formations and the striations here are stunning and for someone who has never experienced scenery like this I would find it very difficult to make progress on a hike. There is so much to take in but I suspect that as you have experienced these landscapes before and whilst being very appreciative of them you’re not as over awed as I would be.
    I thoroughly enjoy your adventures and look forward to each new post. So thanks and keep them coming.

  4. What Dave said . . . your photographs are stunning, as always. And you have found the perfect word to describe the indescribable!

    Virtual hugs,

    Judie

  5. Love the new word (for me)! It truly is difficult to capture the Utah beauty as seen by the naked eye. One really must be there to see the colors that surround one 360 degrees.

    This is the best hike!! We did it in March. It was nice and warm as we started, but boy, we had a rude awakening awaiting us! The creek was almost completely frozen and we had a snow covered trail more than half of the way. The rock steps were covered in ice and one of the waterfalls was frozen in time…spectacular!! It was soooo much fun!! Your photos of the double arch are wonderful. It was very hard for me to capture it at all. Great job!!

  6. I have a picture of my parents, wife and children standing in the parking area of Kolob which we took on the way back to Salt Lake city after visiting Bryce and Zion in 77. There is no hint of the colors you have captured in your hike. What a beautiful blog.

  7. When I first glanced at your title, I thought it said pimento. I thought, wow, how is she going to weave that into her posting. :) Then when I started reading, I realized I needed to look at the word more closely. Thanks for the new word of the day. The beautiful photos, along with the words, will help it stick in my mind.

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