THERE ARE MANY FORMS OF RESISTANCE, small statements of purpose or value that express who we are, what we believe in and what we stand for. In a time in which we see millions of people enthusiastically embracing ugliness and lies, we can perhaps resist simply by embracing and defending beauty.
Long ago I had a college music professor who did not believe in beauty. Who taught us that it did not exist, except as a trick our minds play on us, determined by what is culturally prevalent and what we have become accustomed to. He dressed me down in front of the class for disagreeing, for standing up for the idea of intrinsic and identifiable beauty. Of course, I wasn’t very eloquent or knowledgeable then. But recently, for my new book, ‘A Wild Path,’ I had occasion to revisit the subject in an essay entitled ‘No Such Thing As Beauty.’ And of course, since it is my book, I got the last word. The final words of the essay are below—and perhaps they speak to these times as well as my old college professor. (The photo is of a recently visited trout stream, the essay speaks of a morning in the Canoe Country.)
Some things are fitting. Some things are pleasing and delightful to the eye and the ear and the mind, simply because they harmonize with one another, with the world at large, and with something deep inside of us. An internal something that can comprehend loveliness, elegance, and grace. Proportion and symmetry.
My old college music professor was not alone. There will always be those who say there is no such thing as beauty. Or that it doesn’t matter. Or that it is an illusion, a matter of chance, or simply borne of the customs of the day. But I have heard Yo-Yo Ma play ‘Gabriel’s Oboe’ by Morricone. And I have heard Peter Ostroushko play his ‘Heart of the Heartland’ on the mandolin. I have heard whitethroats singing at dusk beside a murmuring river wrapped in mist, and I have seen a wood duck at dawn on a woodland pond, rising trout dimpling the water. And I know all I need to know about beauty. I know that it exists. And either a person can see that, and hear that, and know that, or they can’t.
Out on the lake in the morning light, with the sun just beginning to rise in a flaming ball behind the pines and with the water gathered for morning coffee, I dipped the paddle and pulled. Guided the bow back towards camp. I heard the familiar soft whisper and gurgle, the tinkling fall of droplets as the paddle lifted and came forward, again and again. The sound was a kind of music, of course, a soft melody I had heard a million times. It inserted itself gently into the great silence of the North, the sort of encompassing silence that allows small and gentle things to be heard. Then there was the distant, lonesome wail of the loon, a note that was finished this time, reverberating down the lake. It was altogether fitting. All of it was fitting. And it was beautiful.