Honoré de Balzac’s short story Le Chef-d’œuvre inconnu has as a theme the desperation of the artist Frenhofer over
his disability to complete his masterpiece.
It is an early paradigm for fragmental art where not the completed work is the objective but the fragment deliberately left incomplete.
Why do we give up and turn back? This can be because of lack of skills or imminent danger, and it is a sane thing to do.
But it can also be because we reach a point that we realize we should not touch, we reach a realm that is not ours.
This happened to me on a long weekend hike on McGee trail in the John Muir Wilderness in the eastern Sierras, in the early summer of 1994.
The trail leads at the beginning through lush meadows, but one quickly gains altitude, and the colored mountains like Mount Baldwin here become predominant. It is a magic landscape, both remote and imposing.
With McGee Lake, nestled below Mount Crocker and Red and White Mountain, we have reached our destination. The vegetation has receded, and being exposed like this makes us restless. After a short break and swim, we scramble on.
From Hopkins Pass, the view opens up into even more remote regions of the eastern Sierras. The message is clear and double edged: This is utterly beautiful, but we do not belong here. Humbled, we turn back.