- Like the start of a fireworks show, this first week of spring produces noticeable explosions of color against background browns either in nearby flower beds or far off landscapes. No longer necessary to peer anxiously checking if one crocus is beginning to open _ there are clumps of them shouting for attention. Daffodils wave brilliantly, but hillsides remain mostly a harmony of sienna and umber. Blushes of red and yellow-green fuzz crowns of trees.
- Also like beginning a fireworks show, I have not yet become jaded. The first starbursts and fading trailers still evoke ooohs and aaahs from the audience. In coming weeks there will be more and more, overwhelming in quantity and quality, and yet, somehow, that will remain less exciting than a single forsythia high on a hillside, a blotch of magnificent gold, bravely alone awaiting possible snow.
Lawns are greening, skies bright blue,
Winds blow chill, snow may be due
Daffodils shine every day
Yellow nod along my way
Crocus blooms chained to sun
Open morning, quickly done
Sunlit maples making love
Fogged in scarlet high above
Now I cheer each bright new show
Overhead or down below
Almost too soon this time moves on
Another prelude season gone
- Easter week, which some neighbors take as a signal that yards must be scoured as deeply as kitchen countertops. Predictions and actuality of a quickly-melted beautiful snowfall have narrowed the window for cleanup. Today yard crews are blasting everywhere with multi-megawatt leaf blowers strapped to their backs _ they’d use nuclear if it were available. Noise level is approaching insanity.
- There are many things taught in school, but unfortunately none involve aesthetics. Our binary culture firmly believes that every leaf and twig should be banished to wilderness, every lawn should be monocultured, poisoned, drenched, and barren. Instead of realizing a few leaves, even weeds, add elegance, balance and communion with the natural world, we consider them an affront to our consumer sensibility, wealth display, and control. I don’t much care that such an attitude is sadly wrong _ I am annoyed that it must be so noisy.
While admiring the harbor view from the top of Coindre Hall, I noticed Linda toiling in front of an easel under a subtly flowering maple. “Ah, starting a new career?” I asked as I strolled down.
“No, I’m more of a Churchillian artist,” she wiped her brush on a handy rag.
“Blood, sweat and tears?” I inquired, startled. “Surely it doesn’t take that much out of you, even at our age.”
“No,” she laughed, “And speak for yourself!”
“But that’s Churchill…”
“Just a part. He was a complex man. Surely you read his book on painting?”
I remembered something vaguely. “Oh, yeah, he had an exhibit at the Met once, right?”
“More than that. Painting as a Pastime is still an excellent guide for amateurs on exactly what we think we are doing wasting our time making pictures.”
“And that is?” I had become intrigued, and my memory wasn’t pulling anything else up.
“He said nobody really understands how hard it is to see unless they try to paint. Lines are hard, but colors are impossible. Every time you look, relationships have shifted. He was absolutely right.”
“Doesn’t that just frustrate you?”
“No, surprisingly it just makes me see better.”
“Well, very nice picture, good luck anyway,” I encouraged, continuing on towards the water.
“No need to lie ….” drifted from behind as I suddenly noticed the subtle shifting hues within shadows.
- Unusually warm temperatures followed residual chill of snowstorm, typical spring swing. Today has settled into the normal middle: cold in wind, warm in sun, always on the edge of “too.” Along the harbor, temperatures run five or more degrees below what they are inland, fifteen or so below reports from New York City. Consequently, floral displays change dramatically within short distances.
- This pattern will hold for a while. I waver _ grateful that winter has gone, somewhat anxious for May to arrive. Certain garden chores can begin, although there are limits to what can be accomplished. Chance of frost remains, but we put out pansies to brighten the patio. I enjoy staring at crocuses finishing up their run. Blooms pop up everywhere, sometimes exposed when I clear off the detritus of winter storms. Spring is _ above all _ surprising.
- A set of famous pictures looks like a duck/rabbit, or a woman’s profile/vase, depending on how you glance at them. Optical illusions show what is not there. We used to think that what we see is somehow “real” but now we know we are only interpreting photons hitting a biologic maze to trigger chemical/electrical messages interpreted by interconnected neurons. And those photons are bouncing off impossibly odd combinations of weird forces acting in an emptiness that is not even space. Seeing may be believing, but it is far from absolute truth.
- Aesthetics _ theories of perfect visual combination _ are arbitrary. Logical constructions declare one thing right, another wrong. Such a theory will claim, for example, that a complementary color may clash, or accent, or harmonize in a scene. Meanwhile, we only see what we expect. Some of us look at a scene and notice certain patterns _ houses, cars, a piece of trash _ while others admire shrubs in bloom, green grass, and opaque clouds.
- As a game, aesthetics modifies notions of beauty. We are capable of admiring formal gardens, or wild waterfalls, or jungle or desert or anything else. Our tastes are infinite, and we can shape our environment to please or startle us with unexpected contrast or pleasingly matched subtlety. Those with vast wealth and power _ Cheops, Tiberius, Kublai Khan, Louis XIV, the Vanderbilts _ constructed immense artificial wonders based on particular opinions, which most of us are happy to experience for a while.
- With more modest means, I try to be more practical. Realizing that aesthetics are entirely in my own mind, I must shape my own mind when I cannot control the outside world. A rotting boat in the harbor could strike me as ugly unless I consider it picturesque. Since I can do nothing about the wider environment, controlling my appreciation of it is simply common sense.
- That approach has limits. Ragweed is beautiful, in a certain way, but I will rip it out of my garden. Discarded snack wrappers add bits of color to the roadside, but I may clean them up. If I accept everything, I will do nothing, not even that which I ought to do. But if I try too much, I become frustrated and as callous as my neighbors frantically blowing leaves into oblivion. Unlike in movies or self-help books, there is no happily rational middle path.
- Nature happily ignores my inner turmoil, and plops any color anywhere and dares me to enjoy it.
- Carpet of purple mint has its moment in the sun, but is too subtle for most folks to notice. It’s not simply rushing about in cars, but an entire attitude of ignoring the environment except on special occasions. Many pedestrians grimly staring straight ahead with internal intensities matching their dutiful exercise, others lost in music from earbuds to pass an otherwise boring interlude, many of the rest talking on phones. This entire marvelous world is taken for granted, while more important business takes precedence.
- Once in a while I wish I were a real photographer with professional equipment. Here the purple is washed out, and I regret it’s not more dramatic. But I remind myself that the purpose of this blog is not to amaze anyone with the photographs, nor stun with my insights. There’s enough of that in the world already, and more all the time. These are just poorly captured moments of an average person on an average day trying to pay more attention to my immediate surroundings. A spiritual exercise, if you will. No prayers nor meditations are deepened with fancier apparatus.