There is Still Beauty


This morning I watched two squirrels go back and forth, back and forth, leaping from branch to branch with mouthfuls of leaves, dressing up their nest. Yesterday I walked with a friend along the winter beach; the sun sparkled against the dark water, the sandpipers clustered, the marsh hawk silently soaring and the colors of rust, yellow, purple blending into a song of November.

There is still beauty. We humans are love and hate, kindness and cruelty. But the natural world—the natural world just is. And there is a great peace in that.

…Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled–
to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking

into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing–
that the light is everything–that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.

Excerpted from The Ponds, by Mary Oliver



There are few places where the silence of the natural world reigns. My pond, in the autumn, is one of them. Yesterday I took a walk down the dirt road and after a while I realized that the sound of my footsteps on the dirt was the loudest noise around and that if I stood still, I could hear the leaves as they fell, clicking against the branches on their journey to the ground. Not a bird call, not a motor sound—faint or near—not a voice, no human noises at all. Not one.

Without another human noise to connect to, to validate me and my existence, the silence pressed in—an immense hushed world, where I did not matter at all.

Connection. That is what we humans give each other. Little chips of connection that keep us floating in our self-constructed universes. Take those chips away, though, take away any visual or auditory clue to other humans, and you have only the silence of a neutral world. Which can feel a bit scary. But just as lonely-scary as nature solitude can be, it also offers the potential of unshakable strength. Because those chips can and will be taken away at times. But an openhearted connection to the natural world, by virtue of that very world’s disinterest, will always hold.

Boris Pasternak, in Doctor Zhivago writes: “And so it turned out that only a life similar to the life of those around us, merging with it without a ripple, is genuine life, and that an unshared happiness is not happiness.”  But having the good luck to live in a world that can at times be silent of any indications of being in “a life similar to the life of those around us,” I realize that the sharing of happiness can be the sharing with yourself—a  gift of insight courtesy of belonging to the natural world. Because being comfortable in the silence means accepting the connection nature has offered you.