Friday, November 6, 2020

Where beauty is found


Yesterday it was 18 degrees in Regina--not the brilliantly blue sunny day we might have hoped for, not a still, but yet one more day with high winds.  Nevertheless, snow storms are coming from Alberta on Sunday, so it was the day for Veronica and me to have our annual end-of-fall walk along the chain of islands in Wascana Creek that are west of McCarthy Boulevard. One of the islands is more or less planted like prairie, though along some of its edges you might find prairie plants like wild roses with verdant hips still glowing in the solemn light. Here we sometimes simply stopped to listen to the dry grass and nod to one another when I said "That's susurration," one of my favourite words, onamatopoeic as it is.  The others are planted more like boreal forests, and here we found occasional cover from the wind.  Of course, small birds also found cover there, so we simply watched the chickadees and nuthatches and juncos flit and chirrup.

In a moment that was unaccountably magical to me, Veronica said she thought one of the birds we were watching was a junco, and pulled her phone out of her pocket, opened Merlin Bird ID, Cornell University's site for birders, and played me the song and call of a junco.  No, that isn't unaccountable at all.  I love my daughter and I especially love those moments when she is so wondrously different from me--like having Merlin in her pocket (I still don't own a cell phone) and being so conversant with birding websites.  And I love the fact that nature undergirds her life. Spending time in nature is one of the best protections any of us has against the vicissitudes of life, and god knows we are living through a few vicissitudes. She still has tomatoes and eggplants and herbs growing on her window sills and she's rightly proud of all the potatoes she harvested--all this on her stairway and a couple of areas close to the foundation of the old house where she lives.. 
So it wasn't a "classic" fall day on the prairie:  all the leaves have fallen, it was windy, and the sky was hazy, though I rather liked the light.  Something about it was more interesting than just clear blue sky. But I was ecstatically happy.  Joyous to the point where I could not imagine being more joyful than I was then.  The natural world was just hanging out doing what it does when we let it:  being beautiful, sharing its beauty with us. This seemed like an enormous gift.

I almost titled this blog post "Where beauty is found or what I learned from the Trump Presidency," but, while true, that seemed too cheeky.  I didn't want nature and beauty to share billing with that *#$^%#*.  But if he has taught us anything by his example, by the example of his chimp smile that never expresses true joy in something as unsellable or unwinnable as beauty, it is that things in our daily lives like beauty and nature and spending time with family yield a joy he will never understand.

This walk was part of a more deliberate effort to just get out and walk.  Yes, cardio workouts on my exercise bike are important, but just the human functional thing like walking and looking and reflecting is also important.  Last Thursday we had a still, cloudy day, but it was my day to walk, so I went along the bank of Wascana Creek on the northwest side near Elphinstone and Regina Avenue.  There was a skin of ice on the creek, but it looked like Florentine marbled papers because, I suspect, it had frozen while it was moving or was being moved by the wind.  The banks themselves have been planted--on purpose or by accident--with things that will help  hold the creek bank in place should we experience flooding.  They are so full of disparate textures and tones.  Yes, it's a sparrow world out there:  most of the colours in the landscape are soft bleached golds, browns, greys, and grey-beiges (known in the quilting world as "greiges"), but there's something so essential, so restful about this palette.  I didn't have my camera with me, but I did wonder whether a photograph would do it justice.  Would it capture the deeply-riven bark of elm trees, now that we notice their trunks rather than their leafy crowns?  Would it see, as my own eyes did, the beautiful shift from the texture of grasses and rushes, gone soft gold and springing along their straight stems, to the tangled texture of Cotoneasters?  You needed to be both close up and very far away.  Close to appreciate the textures, far enough away to understand the juxtapositions.
I began to harbor a theory.  What if beauty isn't something "out there," but something in our minds, something we intuitively search out in the natural world because it is always happy to oblige us?  It's a bit harder to see beauty, at least on the prairies, in very early spring when we are seeing winter's mud and reluctant growth in the March cold, just as it's harder to see in late fall when the wind is blustery and nature has stripped down to her most basic palette.  It's easily grasped in spring and summer, in early fall and winter.  But we go looking for it anyway.  And it's that search that is the real beauty.

1 comment:

  1. The prairies are lovely at any time. Beauty isn't anything other than what it is. An impression. A point of view. A belief. All rooted in love. Thanks for writing about the Wascana, especially the reclaimed sewage plant environment that you skillfully proclaim. Cheers.