""Why Be Blind to Beauty?" stared at me from a February 1951 issue of The Readers Digest. The author, Donald Culross Peattie, having passed almost beyond the concerns of this old world, had returned to life with an intensified sensitivity to the beauty around him: "pigeons looked . . . like angels, their wings flashing bright and dark and white again as they banked and wheeled at unheard command. . . . trees — fountains of life gushing out of the earth to fall in a million droplets of greening buds." Summed up, you might say his question amounted to this: Why, with beauty in sunsets, cloud forms and the thousand other things of "blue-eyed day and dark-haired night" should we be so unconscious of their inwardness? It is in our own response to these things that the answer lies, and "all this becomes beauty only through" that response.
Thinking along those lines, and going one step farther, perhaps, I had been wondering why we humans make so little use of the beauty we do recognize. All the things we have seen and loved, all the experiences that have given meaning to life, are stored in the treasury of our memory to be revivified by touching the right spring in our consciousness. Why not touch it more often? Yet, spendthrifts as we are at times, we constantly seek new experiences; or, in miserly mood, lock ourselves up with our treasure, allowing its beauty to dull instead of giving it added luster by putting it to use.
Beauty, whatever its form, is not just for the moment when it catches the eye, or touches the heart. The ecstasy it evokes, the joy it sets free, the peace it brings to harried mind or burdened heart, have their roots in things immortal, and are for all time.
The pigeons, "as they banked and wheeled at unheard command" loosed a flock of memory birds. In a little English village there had been just such pigeons! Seen from a distance, they were like a soft gray cloud, motion in every part of it; then, as by magic, there would come a flash of dazzling white. It was breath-taking in its loveliness, and repetition never dulled the thrill that came. Wheeling, turning, and again wheeling, turning. Darkness, light: the world's eternal ways. Yet, as a symbol, the silver lining of those flashing wings far outlived the blue-gray cloud, their counterpart.
Equally capable of giving wings to memory was a country creek: a gentle, meditative stream at times; gossipy and chattering at others; yet undergoing strange transformations in rare seasons of flood. Alders fringed it here and there, and lush red musk gave of its fragrance. Lace-like ferns saw themselves reflected in its waters, and at one point it dropped over a high rock wall into a pool below. Here were giant ferns and the heart-shaped leaves of the wild ginger — at least we children always called it that. Whatever its botanical name, it carpeted the ground, and the air was sweet and spicy where it grew. One could still go there in memory and feel refreshed: in that timeless land the dappled sunlight, the music of the fall, the cool, sweet water of the pool have gained immeasurably in their power to charm.
Soaring, but not on wings, comes the picture of rocks piled on rocks — great masses of them! As if some giant child, weary of play, had dropped them incontinently, and left them there for someone else to gather up. Forbidding they were, but not impassable, and through a gap as through a peep-hole, one could glimpse a fairy vision: golden sands, hills that were a tender pink and lavender in tone, and in the misty distance the blue of mountains. This was the desert. To see it sleeping in the sun was to feel the things of earth grow small, and into the heart came peace and quiet, and into the mind a greater power for thought.
These are a few of the memories called to life by the 'beating of wings.' There are others of more vivid coloring: scenes where the soil itself is so intensely tinted as to be 'gaudy' were it not that Nature's own palette and brushes did the work! Browns, reds, purples, yellows and all shades in between are lavishly displayed, and when it seems that one can take no more of this extravagance, a turn in the road reveals an added note in this amazing scale.
Where, except in such a setting, could one find the Grand Canyon of the Colorado, for example? That mystery which is all things to all men, and never the same to any man! Can one ever really say what one feels about this creation of a Titan age? At sunset, under a pale moon, delicately tinted with the morning sun — there are countless differences. But one thing they all have in common: a sense of tremendous power! This is the dwelling of a River God. Hidden within its walls, too often a dirty brown when glimpsed, the mighty majesty of the River is seen in the 'Towers' and 'Temples' that mark its winding course. Remembering the beauty of the Grand Canyon, man becomes infinitely small in stature, but the soul of him takes wings and soars!
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The other night the longing came to hear again the great booming voice of Ezio Pinza in his South Pacific songs, "Some Enchanted Evening" and others. As the records rolled around, little Mary Martin came on with her fresh distinctive voice:
"They say the human race
Is falling on its face,
And hasn't very far to go. . . .
But, I'm stuck, like a dope,
With a thing called Hope,
And my heart says it just isn't so!"
A thing called Hope. . . .
When a series of developments add up suddenly to a real 'situation,' what do we do? A situation in which we have to act, and by acting affect others concerned? Even if we don't have to act, we think about it all. Sometimes when we refrain from action for a time, the thinking gets a chance to intensify and flash increasingly vivid pictures on our 'television screen.' As we think or act, we find that we use, after all, our inner qualities developed through former experience in similar moments of life's great show. Somehow through it all we see a glimmer of "the thing called Hope," that quality close to something very strong, very great, first cousin, perhaps, to Trust. We realize that the great leaders of the race must use such an 'alpenstock.'
Perhaps with our mountains of experience to climb, it would be well to leave behind some of the heavier pieces of mental equipment, and place greater reliance on this invisible but very practical bit of aid.
It could be worse, Mary, than to be "stuck like a dope — with a thing called Hope"!
— C. G. H.