Washington State Magazine

Fall 2010 cover

Fall 2010

Cultivated Landscapes

In This Issue...


Back to the city :: Agriculture is rooting its way back into the urban landscape. As King County's farm specialist, Steve Evans '78, '82 has watched agriculture disappear from the area. But now some of the land is going to smaller farms with high value crops. Meanwhile, small farms agent Bee Cha helps East African refugees farm in the urban Pacific Northwest. by Hannelore Sudermann

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Gallery: Urban agriculture, Gallery 1 and Urban agriculture, Gallery 2 Scenes of urban farms and agriculture around Seattle and Tacoma. Photography by Zach Mazur '06. }

Cultivating new energy :: If only we could simply grow our own fuel. Washington State researchers are looking at the possibilities. by Eric Sorensen

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Slideshow: Renewable Energy from Wind }

The kinder, gentler orchard :: The Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 initiated the gradual phasing out of organophosphate pesticides. By 2012, the major chemical defense against wormy apples will no longer be available. But not to worry, thanks to a continuous refinement of Integrated Pest Management and collaboration amongst growers, industry fieldmen, and WSU researchers. by Tim Steury

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Gallery: Cultivated Landscapes Scenes around Washington by photographer Zach Mazur '06. }


One version of pastoral :: Shakespeare offers little in terms of convincing natural description. His Forest of Arden is praised for what it isn't rather than what it is. by Will Hamlin

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Gallery: Erratic Boulders Boulders scattered around Waterville Plateau in north central Washington. Photography by Zach Mazur '06. }



:: FIRST WORDS : The Cultivated Landscape

:: SPORTS: Tools for training

:: IN SEASON: Walla Walla Sweets

:: LAST WORDS: Spiritual landscapes

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Video: Grilling Walla Walla Sweet Onions }

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Gallery: Walla Walla Sweet Onions Photography by Chris Anderson. }

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Video: Pumping Up in the new WSU Weight Training Facility }


{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Video: Clips from Back to the Garden From the documentary by Kevin Tomlinson '75 }

Cover illustration: Stone City West by Robin Moline.
Read more about the cover and order a poster version.

First Words

The Cultivated Landscape

by | © Washington State University

One place you must add to your “must-visit-before-I-die” list is the Wenatchee Valley during full bloom of the pear and apple orchards in late April. Perhaps you’ve seen Van Gogh’s lovely, but not often reproduced, painting “The Pink Orchard.” It’s very simple, a small orchard in bloom. But it’s so simple and lovely it will make you cry with desire. Now imagine it juxtaposed with one of those sublime Western landscapes by Bierstadt. Impossible? Of course. But keep trying. Imagine these vast orchards, all in bloom. And behind them loom the magnificent Cascades, still etched with late spring snow. Once you have it in focus, you’re looking at the sublimely perfect juxtaposition of the natural and the agricultural.

There are other such places as well.

A newly harvested potato field in northern Ukraine, bathed in warm October light, bordered by not quite familiar hardwoods, Ukrainian species of oak and maple, the onion dome of an Orthodox church hovering on the horizon.

The gently rolling mixed pasture, apple orchard, and woods, interspersed with half-timbered houses and brown and white Norman cows, the hedgerow-lined narrow roads of the bocage region of Normandy.

An Indiana bottomland hayfield on a mid-summer evening, the windrows curving gently into the shadows of honey locust and box elder that separate the field from the river, the intoxicating scent of fresh-mown hay permeating the humid evening air, a bouquet as integral to the landscape as the light of dusk.

And another landscape, more recent, added to memory. The precise geometry of the parallel rows and the deep blue green of Walla Walla Sweet Onion fields have always attracted my fancy. But now that I have visited with some of the onion farmers, now that I know some of the crop’s history, of its Italian immigrant growers, the landscape now instills a much deeper aesthetic in my mind.

It may be true, as evolutionary psychologists suggest, that the African savannah prompts an ancient love, that all of us carry an archetypal memory of that open landscape’s appeal. But I believe the most beautiful landscape is one that blends the cultivated with the natural.

Even monoculture holds a certain beauty, at least if framed against, say, the low forested mountains of the eastern Palouse—though endless miles of winter wheat depend to a large extent on the play of light and wind for their aesthetic appeal.

More beautiful—and I realize I’m entering an entirely subjective realm—are the locally consumable, the diverse, the old. Landscape that clearly defines the region, its food, its history, its culture. Cows grazing on an impossibly steep pasture in the Alps. Ancient rice paddies on the plains south of Bangkok. The old farm orchards of the upper Midwest.

It must be either age or appetite, with their irksome intimations of mortality, that drives one to seek meaning amongst the levels of landscape, to imagine, with deep satisfaction, one’s place when landscape, culture, history, food, all blend into one. But perhaps that is simply the definition, the emotion, of home.

Tim Steury, Editor

Categories: Washington state history, Agriculture | Tags: Landscape, Pastoral

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