Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Where beauty hides

Whenever I walk one single block away from my house and look out over the Bluffs, I am always amazed by how much I miss of the beauty that surrounds me every single day. Caught up in the minutia of getting things done—groceries, laundry, deadlines, hockey games, etc.—I forget that if I simply turn and face south I will be struck by a staggering beauty. 

Had my family and I stayed home a few days ago, I would have simply looked out from the living room window and perhaps seen only a blah mid-February day, a colourless landscape under a grey sky. Instead we went out into it, and I saw something quiet different.

I knew it was there. I've seen the winter light on Lake Ontario many times before—its shifting quality; its chilling, poignant beauty. Why do I so quickly forget how it affects me that I turn from it, ignore it, rush right by?

There are many things I miss by rushing. In my own defence, my chosen life as a mother/daughter/
wife/writer includes many obligations that must be met. Each day there are "miles to go before I sleep," as Robert Frost wrote.

But I am beginning to understand the peril of not slowing to look—really look—at this astonishing world, this precious planet that offers an infinite, truly infinite, number of complex compositions where one can lose and find herself, if only one looks.

The natural world offers another paradox, as well. As I struggle to make meaning of my own existence, I face the same questions we all ponder—how can I, someone so small (yes, conveniently for me, if you look closely at the picture on the right you will see a tiny solitary soul way up there on the ridge of the bluff) actually be of any significance on this crazy, complex, crowded planet, and in the parade of nameless ones who have gone before and those who will follow?

How can one so small matter? And one so transitory, too?

I only have to look at the above picture for the answer. I see a little leaf near the left hand corner; a deposit of snow in the crevice on the right. The leaf will decompose soon, the snow will melt when the sun warms it. Likely, as I write this, the snow has been gone for days. I think, too, about the tree long dead whose trunk still gives life to the green moss, and I see the sensuality of the bark with its sinuous lines, mysterious depressions, and a cragginess that every day is softened by the elements, by wind and rain and snow and sun. The fact that the tree lived, the snow fell, the leaf lodged here and was frozen into place— that this composition assembled itself and that I happened, against all odds, to see it, gives me pleasure. It touches me. It is a miracle.

And here's another.

And another.

I certainly didn't expect to find a dragonfly of ice on my walk.

 Another brief, glorious blaze of transitory beauty. Another gift. 

Of course,  you will not be surprised to hear that the sun came out while we walked. 

And the world, even this leafless, dormant world, was brushed with colour again. 

 The subtle hues of winter in the Bluffs — greys and browns and burnished golds beside bright blue sky and the shock of scarlet sumac cones and red dogwood. A staggering scene at our shore.


 The walk reminded me of the answer to my question—the BIG question. It's so simple, of course, right in front of me. Like lost keys or eye glasses, it was there all along.

What is required of us while we are here on this planet is to simply walk through it together. 
And look, and love.

This post was created for a special friend.


  1. Every word of what you've said is true. And every word a challenge to overcome what we present ourselves with each day. I think so much of what is said here has to do with concentration - lack of it, need of it. Concentration brings a nothingness to the mind, a clearing out of noise and a focus. Photography does this easily, if you are of a mind to create an image. Little is more frustrating than "this camera takes good pictures". As a photographer once said, its like congratulating a host that her oven made a good dinner.

    Mindfulness of minutiae, mindfulness of colour, mindfulness of shape and contrast are tools that can be applied to most endeavours in the human condition. We forget this. I forget this. I sometimes despair of the utility of human beings. To what end do we do what we do? The snake eating its own tail is a facile parable of hugely reflective dimensions for us, I often feel. However, seeing minutiae, contrast, colour on demand within our everyday purview should be taken for granted. At least we should try. You try, that's clear, and thank you for reminding me to try.

  2. I love that quote about photography. So funny and so true. I don't try often enough either. But the reward is so great when I do. At the same time, I do see value in the work I do that is invisible. The pushing of the grocery cart and hauling of the laundry up and down stairs. I just feel more strongly now than ever before that I must carve out time to engage with the natural world again because it's what feeds me. To have that interaction with nature in a solitary way, and with loved ones, too, but often alone, connects me to myself. And then to reflect and communicate what I learn there, that is what resonates with me as my work.

    I think I need that time for clarity, as you say. I crave time for concentration, too - but a gentle focus. What a gift to have the health and wealth for that level of engagement with the world, even occasionally. By the way, I like the pictures you take. What kind of camera do you have? Maybe I should get one? ; )