“The land was ours before we were the land’s.” Robert Frost
The I lugged what seemed like the 800th load of wood to feed the fireplace’s insatiable appetite, shoveled paths to the car, the compost, and the wood pile, endured two frozen pipes, two nights without heat, and two days when the thermometer never got above single digits . . . and that was just a warm-up (if that’s the word I’m looking for) to the “Bomb Cyclone,” which was heading up the coast of Maine with sub-zero temperatures trailing in its wake.
And yet, there was on this frigid island a beauty all too easy to overlook on this place Samuel de Champlain named “Ile de Monts Deserts” for its stark, rocky peaks. For those bitterly cold days also brought the New Year’s “wolf moon,” which rose huge and red into an icily clear sky. It will be followed on January 31st by what NASA calls the “super blue blood moon” — the second full moon of the month, larger and 30% brighter than normal and accompanied by a lunar eclipse that will turn it a deep, rich red.
We live in a time when beauty seems little valued by politicians who insist on the primacy of economic growth to the exclusion of all other values, who gleefully defund the arts and see in nature only a barrel of commodities to be exploited. This is not a new theme in our history, but it seems a good time to remember an alternative tradition of those who have decried the excesses of industrial and technological growth and extolled the natural beauty of this land.
Their voices speak on behalf of a strain of our culture that is not merely out of fashion; it is under assault. They remind us that to mistake /homo economicus/ for the whole of man impoverishes not just the natural world but ourselves and our communities — for how we treat the earth is a measure of how we care for our souls and for each other.
They have been preaching this message throughout our history. Listen, for this is our heritage too:
“Looking for America: Beauty and the Bomb Cyclone (a series)I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived” (Henry David Thoreau, 1817-1862).
“Dam Hetch Hetchy! As well dam for water tanks the people’s cathedrals and churches, for no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the heart of man. . . .Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.” (John Muir, 1838-1914).
“To those devoid of imagination a blank place on a map is a useless waste; to others the most valuable part. . . .Only the mountain has lived long enough to listen objectively to the howl of the wolf” (Aldo Leopold, 1887-1948).
“Let the mountains talk, let the rivers run. Once more, and forever” (David Brower, 1912-2000).
“The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope” (Wendell Berry, 1934 -).
“Once upon a time when women were birds, there was the simple understanding that to sing at dawn, and to sing at dusk, was to heal the world through joy. The birds still remember what we have forgotten, that the world is meant to be celebrated” (Terry Tempest Williams, 1955 -).