I’ve posted the quote before, but I’ll share it again because it is my favorite line from Fraser Harrison’s Infinite West: Travels in South Dakota.
“The Badlands was nature on acid; this was geology as psychedelia.”
The idea that Harrison brings to mind—that of drug-fueled geologic activity—is one that appeals to me in some strange manner. I’m not advocating drug use, of course, but to my mind the description is perfect. Whoever has been fortunate enough to stand in the Badlands, particularly early or late in the day, has surely experienced that mesmeric sense of wonder at the shapes, rises, troughs, colors, shades, and sheer scale that appear before them. Such combinations of multi-flavored “exploded ice cream,” as Harrison describes it, makes me chuckle with admiration at nature’s power to amaze. And yet, the Badlands are so “trippy” that Harrison’s “nature on acid” seems appropriate—a description as apt as one might find anywhere for anything.
Fraser Harrison has other beautifully sculpted descriptions (not words on acid, but certainly inspired paintings in the letters and sentences sense) of the Badlands. His imagery is marvelous, concocting in the reader’s mind a particular vision of the Badlands no matter how many times they have seen them themselves. I don’t know exactly which formation he was describing when he wrote of a “futuristic megalopolis, mile after mile of towers, blocks, and crazy superstructures, all designed in sci-fi Gothic and lit by a low, melting sun,” but I do know that when I next look upon one aspect of the wall or another, I’ll be able to picture it featuring as the backdrop to a sci-fi blockbuster on the big screen.
Good writing, no matter the subject, has the power to influence the reader. Great lines within a book often stay with us forever—the best becoming iconic in themselves. I know that “nature on acid” will hold a special place in my mind for many years. And, I hope that as others pick up Infinite West they will discover the strength of Harrison’s words and take away from the book little gems of their own, perhaps stacking them on top of each other as if forming their own word-filled Badlands.