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“Beauty does not linger, it only visits. Yet beauty’s visitation affects us and invites us into its rhythm, it calls us to feel, think, and act beautifully in the world: to create and live a life that awakens the Beautiful.” So writes John O’Donohue (1956 -2008), Irish poet, Hegelian philosopher, and lecturer who sets my spirit a-shivering.

The lakes and mountains of Connemara, West Galway, imbued Donohue’s fluid aesthetics with rich dynamism, order, and harmony. From his stonemason father and Uncle Pete he learned the beauty of spirit and work. Widely read for decades, he culled insights of beauty from classical and contemporary poets and writers and psychologists and braided them into his personal sense of beauty.

In 2004 he published The Invisible Embrace – Beauty, essays articulating this amalgam, now his own; its ninth chapter, “The White Shadow: Beauty and Death,” seized my interest. Given the Creator’s affection for all that is, superimposing the lens of beauty over the underbelly of life reveals a different milieu: pathos. What seems weak, exhausted, broken, stunted, and breathless, is much more.

Such truth scrapes barnacles from doubt’s poison, catapults despair’s insanity, illumines the dying process with hope, and releases headwinds of change—inherent within this new direction is its own intimacy with Beauty who O’Donohue identifies with the mystery of God. Such finding evidences his compassionate listening to the terminally ill and resonates deeply within my psyche.

My study and waiting continues. Happily, I have another companion in John O’Donohue who made his crossing during sleep while vacationing in Avignon, France. So simple … just like his life was among us.

 

“The morning burned so August-hot, the marsh’s moist breath hung the oaks and pines with fog.” So begins Delia Owens’s novel, Where the Crawdads Sing (2018), featured on the New York Times bestseller list for the past sixty weeks.

That sentence reveals the author’s poetic bent, her intimate experience with the flora and fauna of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, and her working knowledge of multiple archetypes sprinkled throughout this novel.

Owens’s images clamor with sensuousness, plunge us within teeming interludes of sounds, tastes, and colors, even repulse us with the stink and humidity and sudden squalls of trackless swamps. This subtle interplay of violence and gentleness forms a pastiche of strange beauty that fascinates and invites even deeper engagement with the next image.

Within this setting, Owens unfolds the story of six-year-old Kya, abandoned by her alcoholic father, her battered mother, and her siblings. Alone in the family’s rough-hewn shack, Kya assuages her orphan heart by communing with Big Red and other herring gulls on the beach. From them and other creatures scuttling atop blistery sands and foraging the forest floor, she intuits the laws of nature: they become her life teachers. So keen is her learning that a certain fierceness tinges her character causing the townspeople of Barcley Cove to scapegoat her as the Marsh Girl. No one cares enough to learn her name. Colored Town also carries their judgment, several decades from the1965 Civil Rights legislation.

Such prejudices nudge our own, mired within swamp-psyches, and beg for release—undoubtedly the universal appeal of this novel.

 

 

Wetness saturates the air with droplets. Overhanging maples, with run-off teased by breezes, splatter upon my slicker. Around me, shrubs pay homage to the once cracked ground, oozing underfoot and chilling my sandaled-toes.

It is Saturday afternoon by the creek: a confluence of multiple rhythms that compels even deeper listening. I pause in my tracks as my spirit yearns for moisture. I shout into the stillness. Gladness wells and refreshes my cramped psyche: Again, my Inner Writer breathes. Such is the restorative power of walking in the woods.

That evening I happened upon Beethoven’s Symphony # 6 in F Major – The Pastoral (1808). Beset by health and relationship issues most of his life, he often left Vienna and took solitary walks into the country; there, nature’s rhythms nurtured his passion for composing. Such must have occurred with his Sixth Symphony. Unlike others, it contains programmatic notes for the five movements: Awakening of cheerful feelings upon arrive in the countryside, Scene by the brook, Merry gathering of country folk, Thunderstorm, and Shepherd’s song and cheerful feelings after the storm. Fortunate for us, Beethoven later wove these rich experiences into this symphony; its melodic lines breathe into the psyches of the listeners. Contentment expands into smiles. All is well.

Like him, we are never the same after such walks.

 

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