The reds are always salmon-colored, terra-cotta, or Indian red; the greens are olive-hued, plum-colored, sage-green; the yellows are as pallid as the leaves of yellow roses. Fresh breaks in the wall of rock may show bright colors that have not yet been weather-worn…. A mountain wall may be dark red within, but it is weather-stained and lichen-covered without. Long-reaching shafts of granite that loom upward from a peak may be yellow at heart but they are silver-gray on the surface. The colors have undergone years of ‘toning down’ until they blend and run together like the faded tints of an Eastern rug.
- John C. Van Dyke, THE DESERT: FURTHER STUDIES IN NATURAL APPEARANCES (1901)
How silently, even swiftly, the days glide by out in the desert, in the waste, in the wilderness! How ‘the morning and the evening make up the day’ and the purple shadow slips in between with a midnight all stars! And how day by day the interest grows in the long overlooked commonplace things of nature! In a few weeks we are studying bushes, bowlders, stones, sand-drifts — things we never thought of looking at in any other country.
|Trail through new snow after April storm in Michigan|
In Leelanau County, Michigan, Up North winter brings opportunities for noticing comings and goings of life that otherwise proceeds invisibly all around, as tracks in the snow tell stories. (Follow link to see more Michigan tracks. There was another, more extensive post of tracks in the woods, but I can't find it.) In spring, when the snow is gone, my dog still gets the news with her nose; I, on the other hand, dependent on vision, have the olfactory equivalent of near-blindness in grass and woods and must await dirt roads or wet shoreline sand to see what she detects on and near the ground. Here in the desert there is more bare earth, thus more signs accessible to sight. On dirt roads, in dusty washes, across the desert itself, there are more tracks and trails for me to see than back in Michigan after snowmelt, but whether here or there, looking for signs and paying attention to them is just as natural to me.
|Cow tracks on road|
|Cow path through mesquite|
Line and tint do not always require significance to be beautiful. There is no tale or text or testimony to be tortured out of the blue sky. It is a splendid body of color; no more.
Those first twenty years of our life we were allowed to sap blood and strength from our surroundings; the last twenty years of our life our surroundings are allowed to sap blood and strength from us. It is Nature’s plan and it is carried out without any feeling. With the same indifferent spirit that she planted in us an eye to see or an ear to hear, she afterward plants a microbe to breed and a cancer to eat. She in herself is both growth and decay. The virile and healthy things of the earth are hers; and so, too, are disease, dissolution, and death. The flower and the grass spring up, they fade, they wither; and Nature neither rejoices in the life nor sorrows in the death. She is neither good nor evil; she is only a great law of change that passeth understanding. The gorgeous pageantry of the earth with all its beauty, the life thereon with its hopes and fears and struggles, and we a part of the universal whole, are brought up from the dust to dance on the green in the sunlight for an hour; and then the procession that comes after us turns the sod and we creep back to Mother Earth. All, all to dust again; and no man to this day knoweth the why thereof.
Individual, type, and species, all shall pass away; and the globe itself become as desert sand blown hither and yon through space.
…not because they develop character …, but simply because they are beautiful in themselves and good to look upon whether they be life or death.