beautiful

Posted: August 10, 2010 in beautiful
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I want it. I want to snorkel it, I want to telescope it, I want to drive in it, I want to plant it in my backyard, I want to eat it, I want to look at paintings of it, I want to see buildings that revel in it;  I want to put it on the top shelf of my brain every night and sleep on it.  I want to happen upon it unawares on the ground or on a wall or on a face and be startled again by the drop-dead gorgeousness of the gorgeousness of the gorgeous.

Last week, I saw a man hand a woman a bag of free food – beautiful.

I saw a cat peak with yellow eyes, black face and white whiskers through a hole in a box—beautiful.

I saw the shadow of a tree on a wall, shadow art, lacey and intricate grey drawings,  caved paintings, duplications of the ideal forms of things. I was Platonic again in that moment.

I saw a baby crawling, sitting, clapping, bright eyed, expectant, insatiably curious – absolutely beautiful.

We live in a God-kissed world; his lipstick is all over the place.  This is why sunsets and Indian Paint Bush are red.

I couldn’t resist the charms of a pack of rosy colored Impatiens at Lowes last week. I brought six plants home, all blooming with best shade of red ever and planted them in my back yard along with some new bright green sod. I planted the flowers in front of my repainted, white, stucco terrace wall. I really like the rough surface of stucco; flowers and trees and grass look knock-you-out beautiful posing up against stucco. It never stops —  the divine smouching,  the physical evidence, the outrageous beauty.

On August 1, 2010 the sun flared, an arcing pillar of hot, white light rising up and flaring out from roiling surface. Recorded by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory at extreme-ultraviolet wavelengths, the photographs show a massive white, orange and yellow pillar of fire rising up off the sun.

Nice! Beautiful! We needed that, the flare, the flicker from the sun, the color in our eyes. Yellow fire, we’ve seen it before — the candles on Christmas Eve, flickering over the communion, highlighting the wine in the cup. The pure golden fire, lying on the beach as the sun sets, a glitter path of golden light running from the falling sun, across the waves and onto the sand.  

It’s good for us. On August 1 we  soaked in the flare, literally, the rays, as they flew on the solar wind to earth. One day a larger solar storm may stike us and destroy the electrical grid and wean us from TV and the Internet and managing our money online.  If that happens, it will be okay, really; it will give us more time to look around,  at the beauty.

I see that Lunt Solar Systems is now offering an affordable, compact hydrogen-alpha solar telescope that features a 35-mm etalon, with a bandpass narrower than 0.75 angstrom. It can show the Sun’s prominences and delicate surface detail. I want one. We all should have one. Iccarus should have left off with the wings and just sprung for one.  A solar flare, seen from afar, can make a day.

But the deal it that there are a lot of things to distract us from seeing the good stuff, to interfer. Too much, we miss it.

Today, more than a solar telescope, I felt like I needed some protein, and so in the morning, I engulfed my soymilk, wheat checks and coffee. The brown, latticed squares crunched hard and fast, as well as the second bowl and the second slurped cup of coffee went down smooth. As the protein, carbs and caffeine weighed in, I began to near humanhood again.  The first grumble at our house is sometimes, “Just give me the coffee, and no one will get hurt.” Eating and drinking is good habit, a good habit, but good habits  can keep us from seeing better stuff — flares.

Last night, I  wanted sleep more than star light or meteors or other bright visual stuff. I know that because I closed my eyes at 8:30 pm. with the light still on for my wife’s reading, and went to sleep.  Running my reciprocating saw all morning cutting metal bolts and flanges in the backyard had dramatically depleted my stored energy. These bits and pieces of rusted metal were remnants of someone plan for a patio cover — never realized. We dream, of the sun and of shade, but sometimes, like Jonah by his withered plant,  we fail at it.

This afternoon, I wanted safety, not beauty. I know that because I slowed on the turn around the lake in my SUV, coming back from Lowe’s, negotiating the SUV lean, wishing I was driving the MGB that I owned in college, but being careful in what I was in – a living room on wheels, not much more negotiable in a turn than a book mobile. But speed will have to wait,  perhaps until the Infiniti G-35 sport coupe that I occasionally lust after and may some day fall for. I checked the intersection at H Street and Eastlake Drive before entering to avoid any Mr. Toad’s driving furiously by.  And last night, for more safety, I avoided watching the evening news. What I don’t know isn’t in my mind, to scare me. Safety is overrated. It too often wastes the use of our eyes.

And this evening, I felt like I needed a real kiss, not a solar kiss. I know that because when my wife came home from work, I was really happy to see her and gave her a big hug, and we ate Mexican food together on the patio and talked over the day’s trivial events, as good wives and husbands do all over the world, making sense of the day, calming the little things we did and said that day down, telling them in a story, settling them in for the night. We were Mrs. Darling in Peter Pan, folding and stacking the mental mess, putting the good on top, packing the undesirable at the bottom of our minds.  The Mexican food helped because Mexican food makes for good talk because it is multi-colored and beautiful  — green, red, yellow – and it can inspire multi-level thinking, and with a Corona to wash it down, it can inspire colorful conversations – sometimes.

But protein, sleep, safety and kisses are not enough. Something is still missing. We also need beauty. This is one thing I have sometimes forgotten but keep coming back to strong now. I need beauty, a cup full, a bowl ful, a world full, a sky full, everyday. So does everyone else,  but we all tend to forget it in all the pursuit of the other pursuits that pursue us.

During my recent garden project that resulted in a nice layer of sod in my backyard, I glued a lot of schedule 40 PVC irrigation pipe. To stick it together, I used Christy’s “Red Hot Blue Glue.” I love Christy’s glue. It’s beautiful with the lid off, ropy, as deep blue in color as my grade school girlfriend’s Teresa’s eyes and it makes me dizzy in the same way she did. To avoid Christy’s seduction on my recent project, I wore my snorkel and mask when gluing the pipe together in the trench. It’s the same breathing tackle I used in Maui on our last trip to the islands. But when you wear your mask and snorkel in the backyard while carrying a can of blue glue and some white pipe around, you risk the neighbors avoiding you forever hence forth. But it can’t be gotten around. The pipe must be laid. A beautiful lawn is really all about what’s underneath, schedule 40, some male and female connectors, some risers and Christy’s hot blue glue. One night I wore my mask and snorkel to bed, putting it on while my wife was in the bathroom. When she came out,  I was ready, looking out over the sheets through my silicon mask, breathing noisily. Her, not so much. 

It’s universal, the lunge toward beauty, the beauty projects, the willingness to lay pipe to create lawn.  Some of our greatest minds have been chronically in need of a daily dose of the gorgeous – obviously. Consider Xie He,  the Chinese art critic known of his six elements that define a painting,  Johannes Vermeer, the Dutch master of painted light, Carl Linnaeus, the Swiss father of taxonomy,  Antoni Gaudi,  the Spanish architect of biomorphic buildings, Coco Chanel, the French fashion designer, Satyajit Ray, the great Indian filmmaker, Auguste Escoffier, the French emperor of chefs, Leonardo da Vinci the Italian genius, Shakespeare, the English bard – all clearly ached for beauty.  All their art and art criticism and science and architecture, clothing, movies, culinary delight, intricate machinery, fine literature and a lot more stuff in our world bears witness to our wildly aesthetic bent, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, da Vinci’s flying machines, Coco’s little black dress – “Wow!” 

And we don’t merely need one beauty; we long for and crave many  beauties, one of them being that shapely thing we call size. We humans are wildly attracted to things cubic, things with circumference, with volume. When I was in college a friend and I shared rides to school. She was taking beginning Astronomy and loaned me one of her text books, The Stars by H. A. Rey. It is a children’s book and so it is very helpful to everyone.

There I first learned about the stars. Stars have circumference, a lot of it. They have pull, gravity, and an appetite; they eat and are eaten by each other. I was smitten by the huge, round, hot, white, blue and red orbs and their groupings in space.

Using her big blue book, I identified the constellations for the first time in my life. I thrilled over discovering Orion, as if I were the first discoverer, the belt, the sword, the nebulae therein.  I bought my own copy of Rey’s book. I went on a trip with her class and wandering innocently up to a telescope I bent down and saw the faded butterscotch orb and brilliant arching rings of Saturn.

“Incredible! It doesn’t look real. I didn’t know you could see the rings of Saturn in a little telescope. That’s the Cassini Division in the rings?  Wow! Superwow!”

I gushed. I grinned. This was it. This struck a chord in me; the ring was for me a beautiful F# minor 7th, a combination of harmonious notes to play again, to come back to whenever playing an E, an A2, a B2 and a C# minor 7th.  It fit, it belonged, it seemed to me that it wanted to belong in this measure of song, in this movement, of this piece, in this given universe. And perhaps it was more even than that, and indicated something fishy going on here, something behind the scenes, something weirdly wonderful in the physics of the stuff we live close to.   

The split between the A and B rings is one of the most beautiful splits in the universe to look into, much like the Grand Canyon or the split between the left and right brain. The rings on each side of the Cassini are flying flocks of rocks, shepherded by moons. How cool is that?  

“Gorgeous!  Amazing! Wow. Wow. Wow!”

I read in H. A. Rey that if you placed Saturn between the moon and the earth the rings would almost touch reach the moon on one side, the earth on the other. I celebrated that and still do, inside and out. That night I also saw the moons of Jupiter and its cloud belt. I was astonished, ripped, wrought. I went back home and bought a four inch reflector. I pointed it up and was astonished.  But it wasn’t big enough for my appetite. More light was needed.

I bought an eight inch Celestron — beautiful, in itself, in fact, so much so that  by it I was distracted from the stars for a moment  much in the way that cars distracted me from math in high school. What a gorgeous work of art is the Schmidt Cassegrain telescope —  the central opening in its primary mirror, the folded light path, the sleek and shiny corrector plate.  And the views it gave up, they were something to “ooh” and “ah” over — Saturn’s belts, Jupiter’s red spot, Venus’s crescent, Mar’s white polar cap against its dusky orange sphere, the perceptible disks of Uranus and Neptune.  

I went crazy for aperture. I found a used 13.1 inch Coulter Optical Dobsonian in the paper, bought it and refurbished it. It was a light bucket. I fell in love with the mirror. I cleaned it, stroked its silver skin, polished its gentle curve. I now owned an observatory. I could find and gawk at hundreds of fuzzy galaxies with 100 million stars in them, more, more, more, the hunt for the mystery, the look, through the eye piece at the wonders.  I couldn’t get enough celestial beauty; I still can’t. I adore the Orion Nebulae, the Ring Nebulae, the Veil Nebulae, the great globular cluster M-13, the Whirlpool galaxy. They never stop thrilling me. Anyone who has missed them should do nothing else at all until they have seen them. One should not exit earth wthout seeing what is beyond earth.

The other night I looked up. The moon was huge and far and white. I put it in my eye, and I washed a little bit of the difficult day out with it. This is it, the beauty washes us, it cleans us, it restores the orderly in us again; the beauty is Mrs. Darling, bent over our disturbing dreams, straightening the covers, kissing us on the foreheads and saying “Goodnight, my little sweethearts.”

We must go places where we can see further. It should be mandated that we frequent viewpoints and lookouts. This last spring, I went out to the Anza Borrego desert east of San Diego. From highway 79 just south of the town of Julian I stopped at the desert outlook. I squeezed through the sun roof of my SUV and sat on top. Thousands of feet below and miles away, were the beautiful, sandy desert and beyond the blue Salton Sea. I soaked my psyche in the far off.

But what is the beauty of distance, of size of volume, without the beauty of color. Color is fuel, drugs, the palate of the mind. I love color. This spring my wife and I hiked the trail from the top of Torrey Pines, south of Del Mar, down to the beach. Stopping half way down, the color palate was stunning, yellow Sea Dahlias, red Paint Bush, blue heliotrope, purple and white Black Sage and the red sand cliffs and the aqua marine ocean with the black dolphins riding on it, swimming south in the sea in lyrical, synchronized movements.

I needed this because I had worked too much in confined spaces, too close to sheet rock and neutral wall paint for too long. I went home cured, temporarily.

I love the watery beach with the same love that I have for the desert. They wear similar makeup. One year when we went out to hike the Palm Canyon in the Anza Borrego desert, just east of San Diego, it rained. There we were, hiking up the canyon, ogling the flaming red tips of the Ocotillo, the yellow clumps of brittle bush, the magenta explosions shooting out the tops of the beaver tails. Then it rained, and the canyon was transformed into a cathedral, the wet walls became stained glass windows, rich in reds and blacks and gleaming browns and yellows.

A few years back my wife and I toured Italy,  an art circle tour. In Assisi we visited the basilica of Saint Francis. We were struck by the frescoes in the lower church, said to be painted by Giotto in his revolutionary naturalistic style. The life of Christ was depicted in blue and red and green and brown, simple shapes, elemental colors, archetypal stories.  Linda cried. I asked her why.

“They are so beautiful,” she said.

She is on to it. Everywhere we go we should be weeping, over the beauty, everywhere, in nature, in art, in each other, in faces. Just consider the glorious beauty of faces. I recently looked into the face of a woman with cancer and then into the face of her mother who had just prayed for her, thanking God for giving her, her little girl so long ago, a very old woman praying for her aging daughter and all the beauty she was at the beginning and is now, perhaps near the end.  I looked in their faces as they looked in each other’s familiar faces and there was pure, love-drenched beauty..

A few Sundays back, I saw a little girl walk to the front of the church by herself, standing in line, only eight and yet making her own decisions to take the sacrament, making her own choices to put herself in the moment of holiness. 

She stood expectant before the woman serving her, like Vermeer’s girl at the window, caught in the light, reaching to open the glass to something beautiful.  The little communicant held the bread, her short black hair cropped straight along the bottom of her chin, her head tilted as in the painting, angled slightly down and yet opening to something outside of herself.

Then she took the cup, and held this too, perhaps too long, certainly longer than the adults before and after her, either not sure what to do or simply savoring the moment, maybe a little embarrassed, always looking down at the hem of her dress, sipping the blood of Jesus so carefully, half emptying the cup and handing it over, as if it were too special to drink it all. Vermeer would have been frozen, stunned silent and motionless by the beauty.

We need such beauty, often, close, experienced, savored. We would do well to know that more and to make the conscious aesthetic choice to really see it when it is in front of us and to go find it when it is not,  to know it, to treasure it, to soak in it, and to let it inside of us to fill us up again.

I paused under a tree recently and to notice the little bright circles on the ground. It was the sun, shining through the leaves, reproduced, the solar pinhole effect, 386 billion billion megawatts of energy, in a tiny, me-sized, accessible image! I was reminded; we are here to pause, to Sabbath, to enjoy! This is it — the pause; we need to pause; we must pause.

I striped my church’s parking lot recently, laying down new white parking lines on the black asphalt. When I was finished, I paused, it was the divine pause; I enjoyed my work. This is how God must have felt after making the zebra. Stripes! It’s good. My striped parking lot is of the divine order of things.

I like the Hebrew Psalm, number 148. It’s a hymn of creation, the writer exulting in the galaxies, angels, sun, moon, rain – everything up there praising, the writer exulting in everything down here, including little creatures, praising. ”Praise the LORD …  “small creatures,” the Psalmist writes. I guess that includes ants and fleas. The Psalm presents a world-view that reveals a vast, universal hymn going up from the earth, from flea to galaxy, creation — all praising the maker of the beauty. It makes me think, hard.

It is a privileged to see the living Vermeers, and yet,  while we do our best to pile up beauty around us, art on the walls, food plated and presented perfectly, the faces we love captured and framed, the pet fur that we love kept near us in a box or a cage or a yard, our chromey and zoomy cars in the garage, our flowers on the table, much of the beauty of life isn’t in our hands to give and take. We go looking with our telescopes, but the event isn’t within our grasp. It’s cloudy or not; it’s given, or not.

On a recent warm, San Diego afternoon my wife and I paddled out into San Diego Bay from J Street Marina over arched by a steeply angling sun. We had come out to gape at the wonders. Sitting off-shore from the Chula Vista power plant, we turned in the kayak and looked west toward the Pacific Ocean. The roar of cars on Freeway 5 at our backs, we could see the Silver Strand running north from Imperial Beach to the almost-island town of Coronado,  a beautiful narrow strip of sand crowned with red tiled roofs and glowing palms. Condos, big houses, boat slips, the famous Hotel Del Coronado, upscale retail – more contrast to the industrial shore line behind us. 

We luxuriated in this watery commons, we soaked in the distances, we beheld the reflective plane, the flat lines as beautiful as those in a John Marin seascape, and then we turned back toward the power plant. My eyes traced the long line of one of the earthen dikes built to create its intake and discharge channels. What a contrast to Coronado’s strand. Chula Vista’s thin strips of fill material are as ugly as a ransacked room, narrow lines of eroding fill dirt and pieces of broken concrete. As we sat in our quiet watery moment, the beauty of the bay broke through like a shy smile.  The departing sun glittered across the ocean, over the strand, down the bay and onto our faces. The breeze became gentle, the water smoothed and then suddenly, very near, we saw what we had come to see.

A large curious head and curving protective shell broke the surface of the water. We aren’t alone. Swimming very near was a giant, green sea turtle, one from the group turtles that have made their residence in the warm waters of the power plant. One doesn’t have to go far in Chula Vista to see the marine treasures.  In 2009, Forbes magazine rated Chula Vista as one of the most boring cities in America. That’s interesting. Are there boring places? Or are there only bored people in uninvestigated, beautiful places?

We watched transfixed as the turtle broke the surface, opened its mouth, and then slipped back into the depths. It was a sighting of a wonder. It fell into the neural folder in my mind that held all the other sea turtles I have ever encountered. It found space beside the turtle I swam with two years ago on a gorgeous California summer day in La Jolla. That day, my marine buddy and I paddled together from Jolla Shores to the La Jolla Cove through glitteringly clear water, moving in tandem through the sparkling blue Pacific.

It landed in the same neurological row as the baby turtle I discovered while snorkeling off the west coast of Maui last summer. I found this little one on the bottom, sleeping under a rock shelf, then coming up to breathe with me and descending again in a slow arc to safer quarters.

Sea turtles, something given, offered  —  they are part of the beauty that we paddle through life with.

Last week on a bike ride with my wife, I saw a Snowy Egret fishing in a mud flat along the strand in Coronado — beautiful.

Today I say a large white bloom crowning the top of a dark green, glossy-leafed Magnolia tree on the main street running to my house — gorgeous.

And today I watched water cascade over the rock waterfall that I built in my backyard pond, glistening silver in  the sunlight and splashing happily onto the green lily pads that I have planted and carefully nurtured there — spectacular. Monet would approve.

It’s given, non-stop, everyday, offered, to us, out of love, for us — the beautiful!

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