Armchair Peregrinations


November 19, 1998


...Nature itself means nothing, says nothing except to the perceiving mind...
...Beauty is where it is perceived...you surely will see...if you are prepared to see it -- if you look for it.


Henry David Thoreau

...I please myself with the graces of the winter scenery, and believe that we are as much touched by it as by the genial influences of summer. To the attentive eye, each moment of the year has its own beauty, and in the same field, it beholds, every hour, a picture which was never seen before, and which shall never be seen again.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

It is very easy to overlook the simple, yet profound truths contained in these words. How often do we really "see" what is in the world around us? Go outside on a clear, cold night merely expecting to watch a full moon and its usual glow, and, as Emerson says, it become a mere "tinsel", a bauble up in the sky. Be surprised by wonder continually, and you will see a glowing, warm light in the dark vastness of space, three-dimensional almost in its roundness, miraculous that it's there at all. Or as Emerson also says in this section of his essay Nature, try to clutch and hold on to the beauty that shimmers in the yellow afternoons of October and it is gone, only a mirage as you look from the windows of diligence.

These words, wise though they are, are also troubling to my soul. For I find that I want the sunset to last, the dawn to linger in its perfect stillness, the late night to remain quiet and the raucous world shut out temporily. But these experiences of nature do not last, they are constantly arriving and departing our feeble senses' grasp, and we are left once again to face the bracing realities of the midday sun, harsh and brilliant. But, I remind myself, the softer sunlight of late afternoon, with its muted, pastel colors, will be here soon enough. If it's a cloudy day, I can imagine the blue skies above it all.

But perhaps what Emerson is saying, too, is that perception is the awareness of the changing conditions throughout our days and the ability to notice keenly the variations that can surprise and delight us. When we consciously strive to be mystified or enlightened, we easily miss the small miracles of life. This is all part of what hope entails: the knowledge that there is beauty, order, rationality and love all around despite the fragmenting disorder that man creates when he tries to subvert this order to his own selfish purposes.

Last night, I came home from downtown Charleston, parked the car, got out and headed toward my apartment. An absolutely cool breeze and perfect temperature caressed me from the partially dark skies and I wanted to stand there an not go in at all. Of course, I was inside a cozy living room soon enough, but that fleeting experiences lingers, even today.


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