More on Edward Abbey – on seeing the beauty around us

As I pedal my way to slendericity on the recumbent bike in the gym, I’m slowly reading through Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, a beautifully written autobiography, you might say, about his stay in the desert Arches wilderness of Utah.

It’s slow going on this book because I only read it when at the gym rotating the pedals, normally three times a week; but this past two weeks for a couple of reasons, I didn’t go. So it was with great pleasure that I took back up this book to read his very sensual description of a trip by raft down the Colorado River.

Throughout his text, he discusses the need for pristine wilderness for the nurturing of our souls. He likens it to a Cathedral, a better one than the stone and glass varieties that Man has built through the ages. Traveling with a companion, he has braved a number of falls along the way; and explored some of the tributary canyons. They have some difficulty in paddling against the current to go up the Escalante River. Here he finds a dripping spring two hundred feet above, cascading down not only water but a rare panoply of ferns, moss, columbine and monkey flower. His wonder at the beauty of it all leads him to say:

“Is this at last the locus Dei? There are enough cathedrals and altars here for a Hindu pantheon of divinities. Each time I look up one of the secretive little side canyons I half expect to see not only the cottonwood tree rising over its tiny spring – the leafy god, the desert’s liquid eye – but also a r ainbow-colored corona of blazing light, pure spirit, pure being, pure diesmbodied intelligence, about so speak my name.

If a man’s imagination were not so weak, so easily tired, if his capacity for wonder not so limited, he would abandon forever such fantasies of the supernal. He would learn to perceive in water, leaves and silence more than sufficient of the absolute and marvelous, more than enough to console him for the loss of the ancient dreams.”

The place of God.

I remember in my Twenties visiting my father’s church minister. It was mid-Nineteen Seventies and I had been disaffected from the Church. I didn’t feel the Spirit was there and I found the repetitive nature of the services did not reach me nor nourish me. I had no trouble with the rules of conduct, but I rather felt the Spirit was more manifest in Nature around us. I drew my wonder and belief in God from contemplating the incredible biodiversity and the forces of Nature here on Earth and in the firmament.

The Reverend was surprisingly understanding and left me with a blessing, encouraging me to ensure that if that were so, I should immerse myself in my meditations of these things one day a week, so that I maintained and enriched my spiritual health.

I’ve not regularly maintained my communing with Nature on a weekly basis, but I have maintained a deep love for it. If driving through a beautiful landscape, my eyes are full of it, absorbing it. Ditto, when I take the time to wonder at the incredible specificity and variation of form in my garden. Beauty may be in the strangest of places. When the ability to see beauty seems to be “out of luck” because of the paucity of one’s surroundings (such as in urban back lanes or in concrete jungles), you have to go looking for beauty. It’s there.

When I am drawing a form, a flower, a leaf, an animal, a landscape, it is my meditation. It is my way of penetrating into the size and shape and of the object, its texture and pattern, its subtlety of color, the light and dark of it, the warm and cool of it. The wondrous object is the temple and the drawing is the song of praise.
Of course, mankind knows how to mess up his surroundings and make them ugly; so how do I account for that? I’m just not going to go there right now. I haven’t thought it through.

It’s just that, when I read Edward Abbey’s very visual descriptions, it was as if I were standing in the same place that he had trod. I could imagine the beauty he was seeing and be thankful for it and be thankful that he paints in words. I thought to share it with you and encourage you, if you also got pleasure from contemplating his idea, to find his book and read it.

Edward Abbey died in 1989 but his writing lives on and has as much impact for me as if he had written it yesterday, not in 1968.

Ars longa; Vita brevis

Art is eternal; life is short.

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