Seized by beauty

It happened last month. I’d gotten flowers from my husband for our anniversary, a crisp collection of crimson, ochre, and cinnamon blooms surrounded by russet-colored oak leaves, seed pods and assorted greenery. Captivated by the autumn flowers and foliage, inhaling deeply, fingering the seeded eucalyptus and the golden mums, I found myself, and I know this sounds strange, seized by an inexplicable urge to jump into the vase. For a few fleeting moments, I could feel myself nestled in the warm company of those sunflowers, lilies, and what I thought was a decorative wooden fan but later learned was a large, glorious dried mushroom.  Almost as soon as it arrived, my Alice in Wonderland fantasy faded and so I carried the vase outside and sketched the bouquet in all its radiant glory, backlit by the sun.

Can you remember the last time you were seized by beauty? Stopped in your tracks by the colors, the textures, the scents and the sounds? Compelled to touch, to really look, to know with your nose? Intoxications like these, to borrow Beryl Markam’s words, feels like extra life. Do you remember autumns as a kid, captured by the reds and golds against a cloudless chilled-blue sky, rolling in crisp umber leaves, the crunch so close to your ears, that earthy smell, pulling leaves out of the collar of your coat? It occurs to me that my looking glass fantasy was most likely my own body remembering some of those early immersions into fall, into life, and longing for them still.

Attention generates wonder, which generates more attention and more joy. Paying attention to the more-than-human world doesn’t lead only to amazement; it leads also to acknowledgement of pain.

~Robin Wall Kimmerer

What seizes me most, though, about the particular beauty of autumn is that I succumb to it again and again with fully-informed consent, knowing all the while that this splendor will end, and almost always before I’m ready. I began this post a month ago and already the crimsons have dimmed, same for the ambers and saffrons, imperceptibly at first, but there’s now a fuller fading underway that won’t stop until the whole scene is one muted brushstroke of cool, uneventful gray.  That beauty fades, though, only magnifies the urgency of surrendering to loveliness now, what Brian Eno refers to as The Big Here and The Long Now. Why should the certainty of an end dilute by even a single drop our willingness to be captured and enlivened, even ignited, by beauty? If Dostoyevski is right, our world will be saved by it.

Nobody Cares

Nobody cares if you stop here. You can

look for hours, gaze out over the forest.

And the sounds are yours, too–take away

how the wind either whispers or begins to

get ambitious. If you let the silence of

afternoon pool around you, that serenity

may last a long time, and you can take it

along. A slant sun, mornings or evenings,

will deepen the canyons, and you can carry away

that purple, how it gathers and fades for hours.

This whole world is yours, you know. You can

breathe it and think about it and dream it after this

wherever you go. It’s alright. Nobody cares.

~William Stafford