Monday, February 9, 2015

What price beauty?

New SOG chapter over there on the fiction page at the right. -->

The other day a ranch tour guest told me how lucky I am and bemoaned the fact that she couldn't see beauty in her daily life.

I launched into my patented lecture about beauty being everywhere, but I could see her growing frustrated at my response.

It took a moment (not the sharpest crayon in the box here) before I realized her meaning. She knew that the world abounds in beauty. Her struggle was in finding a way to appreciate it.

I didn't have a canned, patented answer for her.

Yesterday as I drove along a barbed wire fence I caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of my eye, something that put a huge grin on my face. It was evidence that a shrike had been in the area.

What's so beautiful about a shrike?

Well, there are these:
VFA-94 F/A-18C. Wikimedia Commons.
VFA-94 F/A-18C. Wikimedia Commons. 
VFA-94 F/A-18C. Wikimedia Commons.
Beautiful airplanes, and Shrikes one and all. Beautiful for many reasons. But I'm talking about a different bird, of course.
Great Grey Shrike. Wikimedia Commons.
The Great Grey Shrike is common across much of North America and is no stranger to the EJE Ranch. They're migratory birds, and it's uncommon to see them this early in the season. But if nothing else, seeing one in February is a reminder that spring will soon be here. A beautiful thing.
Great Grey Shrike with prey. Wikimedia Commons.
I didn't see the bird though. I saw evidence that the bird had been there. Look closely at the picture above. The shrike has impaled his field mouse prey on a thorn. It's what they do. They're called "butcher birds" after all.

Below is the evidence of a shrike's presence on the ranch.
Field mouse impaled on barbed wire, EJE Ranch, February 8.
Beautiful, no?

Shrikes predate invertebrates, too.

Not especially aesthetically pleasing, is it? But it's still beautiful, for it's evidence of nature being nature on nature's terms. This is the real world, and the real world is breathtakingly beautiful in her complexity and interconnectedness.

In thinking about my guest and her problem, it occurs to me that she may be expecting nature to conform to a particular aesthetic.

Nature isn't all internet kittens. She doesn't rely on like clicks and attaboys. Nature goes her own way, regardless of what people like or dislike. Her beauty is deeper and more profound than pretty-shiny-cuddly.

Here's a fun example. Who doesn't love a quick, red, fox. So refined and delicate, so coppery, so fluid, so photogenic.

But foxes aren't always quick, and they aren't quick forever.
Not quick enough to beat the truck.
Everything that is born, dies. Everything that dies eventually decomposes and returns to an elemental state. This is the way of nature.

And then there are the means of nature. She has helpers.
Turkey vulture.
Look closer.
What's missing?
That vulture, or "buzzard" as we commonly call them, has only one leg. Think about that.

The bird isn't any more aesthetically pleasing with wings spread. Ugly bald red head, dirty brown feathers. On the wing their flight is beautiful. An ugly, one-legged bird. An improbable snapshot of survival.

Hmm. Ugly and beautiful. Maybe ugly is beautiful. Maybe it bears thinking about, maybe it's worth the application of effort to open the mind to larger possibilities.

Takes work to get there though.


  1. It's all relative. What one person finds pleasing another may not.

    City dwellers are far too removed from the reality of the world to really understand what goes on "out there." Nature red in tooth and claw... and all that entails. Life is death, death is life.

    By the way, that shrike is a bada$$, innit?

  2. I love watching buzzards fly. They are so good at it.