Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Reflections on Beauty + Such...

Sunset on the Susquehanna River in Bradford County, PA

There is a very thoughtful posting on my pal’s blog… several points spoke to me quite clearly – finding beauty where ever it may be; choosing to make the changes required to insure life-sustaining beauty/environment for oneself and ones family; the amount of land one lives on; and seeking the places of our ancestors.

Finding Beauty:
I’ve learned over the years that beauty is nearly always “free.” Beauty seems available at any time, any place as long as I choose to see it. I find beauty in nature and small children most easily – which is not to say that either nature or children are always beautiful, of course! Beauty is in the smile on the face of another, the expression of dawning awareness as someone discovers something special, the delight of being with friends, the joy of a job well done, the look in my husband’s eyes as he sits across the dinner table – which is still there after 41 years of marriage.

For 16 years, we lived on the banks of the Susquehanna River in upstate Pennsylvania. I loved watching the sun rising over the mountains and reflect in the swiftly moving water. I loved the hoar frost that formed in the winter creating ice crystals that clung to the trees on the river’s edge, sparkling like stardust ever so briefly as the sun warmed the air around them. I loved the heron, ducks, raccoons, possums, toads/frogs/snakes/wounded birds the kids brought home, the song birds coming to my feeder, the friendliness of the neighborhood (despite forever being considered “outsiders”).

Choosing Life-Sustaining Options:
Then we were transferred to NJ – where oil refineries and the NJ turnpike were the only associations I had with the state prior to house hunting. We shocked our realtor by insisting we have large, old trees – known here as “mature trees” - and because we wanted to live next to or very close to “Green Acres,” areas set aside and protected from urban development. It was a long time before we found anything remotely suitable, let alone affordable. The difference in cost of living was astronomical, despite the abundance of everything.

But (much to my surprise) we found lots of beauty here – and we even found a home that backed to a park (not only once, but twice!) where wildlife wandered quietly and birds were plentiful. Yes, we paid more than we could really afford, the first time, at least. But we had the kids and grandkids moving in with us, so we needed a larger home. And I saw (and still see) red fox, deer (of course), coons, a river rat, brown rats, star-nose moles, voles, muskrats, heron, geese (of course), ducks of many varieties, possums, chipmunks, squirrels, and 40+ varieties of song and hunting birds. We still have frost (rarely), snow (rarely), and more sunshine than anywhere I’ve lived other than St. Paul. I may have to go a little further into the park to see many of these critters, but that’s OK with me. The red tail hawk comes around frequently – often hoping to feast on a mourning dove found beneath my feeder. And, yes, I find beauty in that, as well…

I've posted many photos of our current home and backyard - you can check past entries to see them, if you're curious.

Land/Property Size
As for the amount of land we live on... that seems to be a non-issue for me. We've had small lots and fairly large lots - our current home is on a very small plot of land. Perhaps because in nearly every home we've lived in there has been open land nearby which we fully appreciated. We did share our various backyards with many others, although seldom were others around when we were in the parks, etc. The Susquehanna River attracted many fisherpersons to our backyard, but unless they were rowdy or drinking, we barely noticed them. The river was about 20-30' below the house, which sits on the dike. In fact, recently it was endangered by the bridge-building upstream, which changed the river currents and eroded away much of the river bank behind three houses nearby, including our old home. The DEP arranged to bring in landfill to secure these properties, which I find rather temporary unless the river currents are also changed...

In any case, it's not part of my belief system to have "ownership" of the land, although I accept owning our home.

Visiting Ancestral Lands:
This has been the topic of many conversations in our family. When we moved to upstate PA, it felt like “home” to me – at the time, I had no idea that any of my ancestors had lived anywhere nearby. When driving through western MA and visiting the areas where my Buck ancestors lived, I felt at “home” in the region.

But the most significant times I felt the “call” of the ancestors was in Germany many, many years ago, and in Ireland, 10 years ago and counting. Even my husband felt the deep pull of the ancestors in Ireland – and he claims not to “feel” things. Leaving County Lietrim – the home of the Dolan clan, he actually had tears in his eyes and experienced a real sense of loss. I felt the same way leaving Rockhill and Bruree in County Limerick where my ancestors had lived and worked…

I also feel the pull in Minnesota, from which I moved some 41 years ago. Many generations of our family have lived, worked and died there and the pull is strong to return.

You can visit Susan’s blog for some spectacular photos of the Twin Cities (and more) if you wish to have a view of my original stomping grounds. We lived about 3 blocks from the Mississippi River and Susan has ample photos of Old Man River in every season!

So thank you, Mary Ellen, for your thought-provoking post. It had me thinking all day long!


Deborah said...

Your commentary/photos bring feelings to the words used to describe beauty. To find an ancestral/familial location and discover feelings/emotions while physically at that location must be wonderous--transcendtal, perhaps. You are fortunate to have that experience!

Life has shown me that yes, beauty can be found anywhere; however, is the feeling of beauty located first in the heart?

When I lived in Newark, NJ, a place that many dub horrid; I found continual beauty in Frederick Law Olmsted's Branchbrook Park and the Cherry Blossoms, the sun reflecting on the ornate building roofs downtown (yes, a gargolye or two appear!) and always, the birds on the trees lining the subway tracks.

Now I reside in a historic northern Jersey area surrounded by architecturally beautiful churches, synagogues, buildings. There are some parks but mostly there is building, continual,since it is a "hot" area to be, for some.

I have found a few favorite trees, squirrels, crows and starlings that sing, catbirds, groundhogs and once and a while, a deer. Van Vleck Gardens (highly recommended not only for flora but for meditative space)is a walk away.

Still, Pat, if the feeling of beauty is not found somewhere in the heart or psyche, would the places that you document or that I describe be termed "beautiful"? Or is beauty a mental feeling which we understand and then can experience?

These are some of my questions after reading your comments. I am now looking quite forward to my long Montclair walk; although studded with buildings and shops, I will find the beauty. It is already in the heart.

Pat's Place said...

Hi, Deb -

As usual, you bring up a thought-provoking concept... "Is the feeling of beauty located first in the heart (or psyche)?" After considering it for a few days I must admit that I really don't know the "true" or "one/only/holy" answer to your query.

Here are my thoughts on your question:

Perhaps beauty really is in the mind/heart (eye) of the beholder, as some wise sage said so long ago. I know that when things are looking dark for me, beauty is not easily noticed. Bird watching is one of the most frequent ways I attempt to step beyond over-arching depression, but my mind must first make the choice to look beyond my perceived (or real) darkness.

And when I am in a good place/mood, many things appear beautiful to me...

Still, in my darkness, I do notice nature, especially in the wildlife that surrounds our home - be they plant, animal or mineral. Watching water, especially moving water, is especially consoling to me in dark times and light times, as well.

Is it the beauty that calls out to me from my narrow perspective or is it my spirit touching Spirit and noticing...

Is it my mind/psyche that sees or perceives first where beauty is or is it my sensory self that "feels" beauty first?

Is it my own emptyness that cries out for beauty or is it my "spark of God" - my own tiny divinity - that sees itself reflected in beauty everywhere?

I have more questions than answers, as you can readily note. And they are good for my soul. Thank you.