Spring is definitely here, there is no going back. The oaks, hickories, red maples, and sassafras are unfurling their leaves, March’s dull and dreary landscape is behind us. The month of May promises to delight all of our five senses, especially those that deal with vision, scents, and hearing. Helicopters and unmuffled motor vehicles be damned, we will not let them destroy our vernal pleasures.
Funny how, when we are surrounded by nature’s beauty, The New York Times Style section gets bigger and bigger with each Thursday and Sunday edition. While I don’t find it aesthetic at all, I have found an aesthetic use for it — it is perfect for pressing plants. When the Style section yellows in a year or so, the flattened florescence inside will no longer be three-dimensional, but it will still be beautiful to behold.
A scientist by training, a naturalist by choice, I have a hard time thinking that science alone can explain so much beauty. Take the male cardinal, for example. Why is it redder than red? The rose-pink patch on the male grosbeak, does it have to be that appealing in order for the species to survive? Birds are attired in uniforms as Catholic schoolchildren are, only their uniforms are much more spectacular, even outlandishly so. Each New World warbler now passing through on the way north is exquisite in hue and line. The few that stay and breed are just as beguiling. What artist could paint one better?
The coral reef fishes of the tropical seas are astoundingly beautiful. Sea anemones and jellyfish are also beautiful. Butterflies are, too. Just about every living thing in nature, plant or animal, has a beauty of its own. Look at a paramecium or a dinoflagellate under a microscope; each is equally impressive. Scientists tell us it is all a result of millions and millions of years of evolution, but I wonder. Primates come along and develop retinal cone cells for color vision and humans perfect them, and thus aesthetics becomes more and more important as the human culture twists and turns through the ages.
Autumn leaves are a delight, so are blue waters and purple sunsets. Humans can perceive all of this wonderment, but they themselves are quite plain compared to flowering plants, songbirds, butterflies, and coral reef fishes. We wear designer clothing, fuss with our hair, go to spas, do yoga, eat right, work out, get sufficient sleep, but when compared to those other organisms, we still appear quite pale and unattractive. World-class models and Miss Americas are nice to look at but don’t hold a candle to a goldfinch, clownfish, tiger swallowtail, or bird’s-foot violet.
What would the world be like if all the birds were dull gray, all the fish were black, there were no colorful spots or stripes to adorn nature’s treasures? What if songbirds didn’t sing and the only bird sounds were nasal caws and chucks? Would Monet have bothered to paint so many brilliant landscapes, would Beethoven have written the Symphony Pastorale? What if flowers were drab and didn’t smell nicer than most perfumes? Would we surround ourselves with beautiful gardens?
There is not a lot of money to be made beholding nature. In fact, those of us who are so enthralled by it that we find little time to earn a good living or excel in one of the thousands of vocational pursuits available to Homo sapiens, have often been written off as indolent and undermotivated, slow and lethargic, even lazy. Ferdinand the Bull was given to lying about and sniffing his pasture’s scents and ogling the flowers that wafted them, when he was supposed to be training for serious competition in the arena.
No, we humans were blessed with these unique senses to appreciate beauty, especially nature’s beauty, and not to blunt them or repress them in order to leave a large mark in the workaday world in which we toil. We compete, belittle, bully, fight, and kill each other when we should be enjoying the raptures that nature has to offer.
We should all wake up and smell the roses, especially the ones in our own backyard.