Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Color it Green II

(Continued from the preceding post.)

While many of my neighbors apply pounds of chemistry to kill the moss in their lawns, I spend time on my knees (something my very religious Mother would have encouraged) pulling the grass from the moss one small clump at a time.  Moss grows quite well under the gnarly branches of the red maple that shelters the front of our home at Hidden Springs from the often hot Southern sun.

There is something about the repetitive task sometimes associated with caring for the moss that is very meditative.  Our moss garden responds best to sweeping rather than raking. I use a broom with soft bristle to brush away the acorns and leaves that, at various times of the year, coat the surface of the moss.  Each sweep of the broom not only moves the leaves and nuts along but also restores the unity of the green velvety surface.   The rhythmic whisper as the bristles move back and forth across the surface of the moss is the background to a profound meditation…one whispered sweep of the broom at a time.

Perhaps someday Aesthetics will turn its attention to other natural beauties.  For example, the beauty of evolutionary biology as a species comes into being or the beauty of a natural system feeding the cycle of life and death…that would indeed be a substantial transdisciplinary leap into the connections that bind and liberate us all.


Shallow depressions in the sandy mud alongside woodland pond. 

Depressions made by a wandering raccoon, an animal so well adapted to feed on the clams buried beneath the surface of the sand that they fish by touch alone.


The clams strain minute plankton, clarifying the water, cleaning it until it sparkles--growing inside their shells until a passing raccoon senses their presence beneath the sand, and....


Plankton--tiny children of the sun using the basic elements of nature to create the stuff of life, to build their own living plant-selves from the sun and minerals that surround them in the water.


Standing -- on the verge of the glassy waters watching the connections unfold, watching the interconnectedness take place. 

Stepping -- carefully least I erase the trace of what has passed here...of the connections that have taken place here.

Wondering -- where I and mine belong in this web of life. 

Sensing -- in those shallow wanderings the elements of nature flowing through me.   

Knowing -- that someway, somehow I and mine have become separate from the primal patterns shifting and blending in the waters of the woodland pond. 

Understanding-- that the separation is only temporary, can only be temporary, is only illusion. 

Standing -- again-- in the shadows at the edge of the pond.

Watching--in my delight and in my fear.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Color it Green I

The Aesthetics of Environment

Things change and old words take on new meanings.  Green for example has come to mean many things other than a color…nature, environment, products, politics, and many more.  Here in the mountains of western North Carolina we have a lot of green.  The mountains are clothed in a cloak of green, the meadows, fields, and lawns are green and gold, and it is beautiful. We are told by philosophers that Aesthetics is the study of beauty.  Apparently, the root of the word is derived from the Greek terms for sensing or feeling or perceiving.  I sense and perceive that a healthy world is a green, fecund, and growing world...a beautiful world.  These mountains are beautiful but my professional work has taken me from the deserts of the American West and Southwest to the Gulf Coast and Caribbean and, now, to the Southern Appalachian Mountains and I have seen a great deal of beauty in all of these places.

In recent decades Aesthetics has expanded its scope to investigate the questions of beauty in nature.  We now talk about environmental aesthetics. What is it that we sense when we look at a beautiful river valley or the winding rows of corn stubble cut for silage in the fall, or a small park in a concrete and steel city?  Something happens. We can feel it, we can sense it.  Sometimes that feeling is very powerful and often it is shared. A lot of work is being done on what it is that we feel by neurophysiologists, psychologists, biochemists, and other specialized fields such as cognitive studies.  Perhaps, one day they will tell us all about it in the often sterile, reductionist words of science.  But there is nothing sterile about our individual or, very often, our collective response to these things. 

We are moved by nature to paint it, write poetry about it, to emulate it in our gardens. In terms of the issues addressed by conservation biology, why is it important what we find beautiful?  A number of observers have made the point that the kinds of natural settings we find beautiful often make a substantial difference when it comes to reaching that collective decision of what places we wish to set aside, to save, to restore or enhance and which to surrender to other, perhaps more consumptive uses.

We most often perceive of transformation to a green world in a mega-sense…for example the greening of government programs…corporate greening…and organizational transformation. But, in fact, critical transformation can only take place one person or even one action…one blade of grass, if you will, at a time.

(Continued in the next post.) 

(The literature on the aesthetics of environment and nature pertaining to the world  environmental crisis has grown considerably over the past several decades with numerous journal articles and books.  Over the years, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism and Contemporary Aesthetics have published a number of articles on the subject. Arnold Berleant, Allen Carlson, John Fisher and others have contributed significantly.  Books addressing this subject include those by  J.B. Callicott, T. Morton, and others. I also suggest Lance Hosey's The Shape of Green: Aesthetics, Ecology, and Design)