Pampas guitar

The Pampas guitar stands out from surrounding farmland in this view from NASA's Terra satellite. (Photo: NASA Earth Observatory)

Stretching two-thirds of a mile across Argentina's Pampas lowlands, a guitar made of 7,000 living trees stares stoically into the sky. It's visible only from high overhead, where it has puzzled and enchanted pilots for decades. As the satellite photo above shows, it can even be seen from space.

The creator of this impressive land art meant for its image to reach the heavens, but airplanes and satellites weren't really his target audience. Farmer Pedro Martin Ureta and his four children planted and raised the guitar-shaped forest for just one celestial observer — after all, it was her idea.

The guitar is a tribute to Ureta's late wife, Graciela Yraizoz, who died in 1977 at the age of 25. The couple had met when Ureta was 28 and Yraizoz was 17, according to a 2011 Wall Street Journal profile, and a local priest almost refused to marry them because he doubted Ureta's devotion. But while their marriage was tragically brief, the priest couldn't have been more wrong about Ureta.

Ureta and Yraizoz spent several happy years on their farm, where they had four children. Yraizoz helped her husband oversee work in the fields, and also sold homemade clothes she weaved on a loom. One day while she was traveling over the Pampas by plane, the shape of another farm caught her eye. It coincidentally looked like a milk pail from above, inspiring her to fantasize about how she and Ureta could design their own farm to look like a guitar, an instrument she reportedly loved.

Ureta wasn't necessarily opposed to the idea, his children tell the WSJ, but he was overwhelmed with farm work and put it off. "My father was a young man, and very busy with his work and his own plans," says his youngest child, Ezequiel. "He told my mom, 'Later. We'll talk about it later.'"

But later was too late. Yraizoz suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm in 1977, killing her and the couple's unborn fifth child. Distraught, Ureta retreated from daily life. "He used to talk about regrets," says his daughter Soledad, "and it was clear he regretted not having listened to my mother about the guitar."

Pampas guitar

Two years later, however, Ureta began channeling his grief to fulfill his wife's dream. Landscapers balked at the idea, turning it into a DIY project for Ureta. He simply looked at a guitar, he explains, taking measurements and studying proportions. All four children pitched in, both by planting trees and marking the place for each one. The family used cypress trees to form the guitar's outline and star-shaped sound hole, then switched to blue-tinted eucalyptus trees for the strings.

Ureta, now in his 70s, has spent decades working in and around the guitar-shaped forest, but a fear of flying has prevented him from seeing the overhead perspective firsthand. He has seen aerial photos, though, so he knows how good it looks. And based on the view from several hundred miles above, provided by NASA's Terra satellite, anyone else looking down from the heavens does, too.

Russell McLendon is science editor at MNN. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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