Stewardship and beauty

How are we to care for a place if we have no love for it? How do we care for an individual, any entity -- rock, leaf, fur -- if we have no abiding connection to it?

If we lack beauty we have only fear and alarm. If I have no beauty within and without, I have nothing. If my heart does not jump when the phoebe joins me in the garden, if I do not stop when I see the first wild geranium flower, if I stride down the trail unaware of the grosbeak's song, how can I ask anyone else to care a wit about stewardship?

Wild landscapes, full and robust, are beautiful. I may find them frightening when everything looks the same and I feel lost. Painful when I am stung by a caterpillar's bristly hair. Wistful when the last petal drops. These are all feelings. I think beauty might be beyond an emotional feeling. A deep sense, an intuition perhaps.

How does one separate out the cultural definitions of beauty? Well, I suppose, I might ask another question: "Is this wild landscape healthy?" If the answer is "Yes," a feeling of well being and wholeness swells within. Does that sense come from learning or intuition? Both? Can they be separated? Separation of head and spirit may be our culture's death.

A friend of mine says, "You and I, we see nothing but invasive species here. Deer browse. A mess. Someone else hikes here and says that it is beautiful." Does the hiker look closely enough? What does his instinct say about this crippled landscape?

When I work with people in the field, I ask them to look closely. How does the forest look? Let's read the forest together. What is the forest saying? Smell the inner bark and leaves of spicebush. Listen to the talk coming from the branches all around us. Who is singing? What do the rustlings and scratchings tell us?

There is a thread that connects us to everything around us. If we feel the world is ugly, we are tangled in a terrible web. If we feel beauty is all around, the threads glisten like dew on spiderwebs and dance like birch catkins shedding pollen.

We then find the strength to run to the places where beauty is glaringly absent and steward.