Today in my creative non-fiction class we were given 25 minutes to wander about campus and attempt to SEE--as in Annie Dillard's beautiful essay "Seeing", which I recommend to everyone! When we got back we started writing a bit, and I'm going to finish here what I started. So, here goes...
On BYU campus there are numerous bundles of nature scattered across an otherwise predominantly concrete, artificial landscape—big buildings and broad sidewalks, metal canopies and rocky-black pavement all around us. When you happen to stumble upon one of those semi-concealed corners of campus where nature has gained back her rule (not the carefully human crafted nature--the planted and pruned potters and cement surrounded trees and grasses--but areas where she runs free in all her creative brilliance) there are subtle surprises patiently awaiting any viewer who opens her eyes a little wider and actually seeks to see. This brisk early-winter morning I strolled serenely about on the concrete walkways trying to see what nature—real nature, mind you—existed here, anticipating the moment when I would be baffled with beauty, as sometimes happens while I'm trudging home on cold nights and am suddenly stunned as one of the campus deer makes a brief appearance between bushes and trees--gleaming in the moonlight as if it were some unearthly being standing there nibbling on crisp green stems. I was chilled and mourning the winter dullness as the sun glinted off dew coated grass through a hazy veil of sky, looking for something other than the dimming autumn leaves slowly fading into brownness as they began their slow decay into the earth. Out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of a patch of dark-green hearts of various sizes draped about one another as they loosely hung around a railing placed to protect human travelers from the steep descent on its opposite side; the vivid forest darkness of the little hearts—and the big ones too—contradicted the paling, softening hues of yellowing grasses and crumbling leaves laying nearby, brightened by comparison until I was pulled in to see them more closely, to examine their splendor. Looking at them it amazed me how perfectly nature had imitated hearts in this radiant vine, sprawling stems resembling great green veins intertwining and connecting this multitude of living viridian fronds, each delicately laced with its own vascular webbing. And it occurred to me, the little hearts I draw in the corners of my notebooks and that children cut out of pink and red construction paper on Valentines Day are much more similar to the shape of this perennial than to the actual organ that beats in our chests--unless you've ever seen a boy try to draw a heart, those often end up looking more blobbishly like the actual thing--lopsided and unattractive to the eye. But not the hearts we use to symbolize our greatest emotion, our deepest feeling; those hearts are perfected and smoothed, faithfully fashioned into something worthy of the affection and humanity they represent. And like those human made emblems, this creeper, dense and dark with a heavy hanging of lovely appendages, spoke of something deliberately glorious, even in its out of the way, unglorified dwelling. A perfection of form. Not flawless. Not uniform or symmetrically balanced. Not even fresh or untarnished. Yet, that these living leaves lingered in the last days of life before falling snow and freezing temperatures suck dry even the heartiest brambles and bushes demanded regard, respect, even a certain awe. Here was gorgeous, glorious, unsuspected, unprecedented beauty.
Oh what the eye can see when it is open to all the grace of God! Let us see and let us glory in the earth's greatness--gratitude in sight.