Tuesday, December 17, 2013

What to do with all this beauty?

by Andy

It has been incredibly beautiful at the Land School lately. It can be hard for me to remember to notice natural beauty when it seems like it is everywhere every day. These past two weeks we have been living in a winter wonderland at the Land School and I have been just going about my day as if everything is normal. I walk every day to the Homestead and the snow on the trees is overwhelmingly beautiful, but yet I am not overwhelmed every time. Sometimes I think I must not be an artist or a poet, because I just walk by beauty and I can just glancingly notice it and move on. I have work to do or I am late for something. Who really has time for infinity? Tonight, as I write, I try to capture some of these moments.

During the first week of December, we had a mix of rain and snow for three days off and on. It seemed like it would never stop snowing and raining. Over the course of those three days it was the perfect combination of conditions to make the snow stick to the trees and branches. The snow piled up several inches on top of even the smallest branches, and then when it rained lightly, it would glaze the snowy branches in ice and encase the snow and branch in a crystalline cocoon. This happened on every branch and every tree in the forest. Then on that Thursday it turned very cold. Usually when snow sticks to the branches in the forest, the next day the sun comes out and melts the snow off the branches or the wind blows and the snow falls off. I usually have to rush out just after dawn to enjoy the winter wonderland before the ephemeral moment is gone. But the extreme cold that came that Thursday seemed to set the snow and ice on the branches. It stayed, and the clear, cold, sunny days did not melt it off. Instead we were treated to the shimmering reflection of the rays of sunlight bouncing off thousands of icy branches. In the late afternoons, with sunlight shimmering off the icy branches it is almost too beautiful to bear. I am driving or walking somewhere and I feel like stopping, just to admire the beauty.

But I don't stop. In fact at best it is just a cursory glance and a thought: "Wow, that is something!" Then I keep going.  Maybe I am afraid that if I started noticing unique and beautiful things, that I would not be able to function in the real world. There are so many times when I am amazed by the unique and ridiculously beautiful variety in nature. The snowy, swirly wind while I plow the snow at the Homestead. The whirr of birds' wings at the bird blind. The veins on a leaf. The colors of the sunset or sunrise. The flavor of a habanero pepper or a kubocha squash. The smell of a campfire or even when I drive by a house that is burning wood for heat. The patterns on elm trunks after the bark has peeled off. The steam rising from my morning cup of tea. The patterns in weathered barn wood. My life could feel like a progression of multi-sensory beautiful moments. And I don't know what to do with it all.

When I begin to see beauty in one place, I notice that it seems like it is everywhere. I realize what a gift each of our students is. I think every face and person is beautiful. The sound of laughter and excited talking bouncing off the walls in the Homestead is beautiful. The smell of fresh baked bread and steamy soup is also beautiful. The purring of a cat, the dog chasing a ball. Two summers ago, I made a deliberate attempt to notice beauty. I decided to stop and take three mindful breaths whenever I came across beauty. It worked for a few months. Often in the garden I would stop and just be standing there breathing mindfully as a bird sang or a tree moved in the breeze. Flowers would get me. But then my old familiar "hurry-up" came in and I forgot to slow down and notice things. These past two weeks nature has literally hit me over the head with beauty (sometimes falling ice and snow from trees). I might have to start with those mindful breaths again. Maybe there are two steps to beauty. There is the beauty that is inherent in something, and then there is my inclination to notice it.

In rereading this essay I notice that the word beauty is repeated so much. As a writer, I know that repeating a word in sentence after sentence can seem stale and redundant. When I revise, I try to eliminate redundancies and add new creative ways to say things. But as I reread today, I think that the whole point of the essay is that when beauty appears to be everywhere every day, it can seem boring and redundant. Enough already. I don't mean to say a blanket "everything is beautiful" statement either. In fact, there is considerable ugliness in the world, and we need to recognize it when it exists, like when we notice racism or environmental destruction. Ugliness can be a call to action. I think my point is that beauty can also be a call to action, or at least it can call on me to notice it. Thankfully today it is supposed to warm up and get above freezing and maybe some of that snow will melt off the branches, so I can get back to my life.

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