Beauty

“Cairns are little nudges from God, pointing you in the direction of the divine. You don’t have to follow, and there is no penalty for choosing the easier, safer path. But you might miss the beauty.” – Page 71

One of the biggest struggles I had in putting Cairns together was whether to include a subtitle. I ultimately decided to include a subtitle, but up until a few weeks before it was published, it was subtitled The Power and Beauty of Finding Your Way, not The Beauty and Power of Finding Your Way. I initially thought Power was more important than Beauty. But upon more honest introspection, I knew that, for me, Beauty was – still is – more important.

Beauty is a theme in Cairns. It has always been one of my pursuits, especially on my wilderness forays. And beauty certainly had a starring role on my journey with grief, as detailed in the book.

But I had always thought beauty was a personal pursuit, and perhaps even a selfish one at that. Maybe that’s because of its fleeting nature – you can’t hold on to beauty for long, except in your heart. Or maybe because of its personal nature – everyone finds beauty in different places.

But I am changing my mind on the importance of beauty, and its place in our lives.We’ve just returned from a 12-day trip to the mountains and high desert plains of west Texas, and it was filled with beauty. Unimaginable beauty, from the views on the mountain peaks to the bright fall colors of the Texas canyons, to landscapes of red berry-tipped agaves against the mesas and blue skies, to the sky dappled in hundreds of thousands of stars, the Milky Way on full display from horizon to horizon, shooting stars zipping through the constellations, and of course, sharing all this in a hand-held embrace with my life partner.When not hiking or rafting or biking, while enjoying down time in camp or late at night in the tent, I carried a book with me, The Carry Home, by Gary Ferguson. Ironically, I found the book while searching for an image for a Cairns facebook post. Of course my attention was piqued with a synopsis of the book, about Gary’s own journey through grief following the death of his wife, following his heart through wild places, too. And wow, my local library actually had the book available when I stopped in two days before leaving for our trip.

Gary’s writing is brilliant, packing an economy of words that efficiently conveys both description and conviction, connecting with the reader at a deeply emotional level. His passion and pain are shared equally, without embellishment, because the truth needs no embellishment. And there it was, in a chapter entitled Thanksgiving, read in camp in the Chisos Mountains after a day spent hiking since dawn; a truth I have known all along, but I didn’t recognize as a universal.Gary had been commissioned by a publisher to gather a collection of nature myths from around the world. Of course I have long recognized the ancient wisdom of myth, also evident in Cairns in my quotes of homage to Joseph Campbell, the godfather of mythology. And Campbell’s lifework, the hero’s journey, is the framework of both Gary’s book and mine.

In true Campbell fashion, Gary collected more than 1,500 nature stories and myths, from storytellers and anthropologists and tribal elders. From these stories, three qualities essential to living well in the world emerged – and the first of these is a relationship to beauty.

“The stories suggest that, while beauty may be fleeting, there is great reliability to it – a reliability so unerring, in fact, that it can pull the imagination to higher callings, to the outer edges of the eternal”, writes Ferguson.

Of course it can, I know this. But I didn’t trust the reliability of it; why, I don’t know. I am still learning. And sometimes it just takes someone else to point it out, to confirm your suspicions. But when those suspicions stand on the shoulders of timeless stories and myths – well, then it genuinely is a truth.

I put down the book after reading this, and watched the sunset through The Window at our camp, more than content “to see the world through the shine of whatever beautiful thing is in front of you.”

Beauty is reliable.

Of course, I will explore this concept in depth, and it will be a wonderful journey, buoyed by the same euphoria a scientist must feel with a hypothesis confirmed. While being present for the beauty, of course. Thanks, Gary, for doing the legwork.

The second quality Gary found necessary to living well in the world is community, and the third, mystery. I agree with these qualities, too, and of course they are main themes in Cairns also, especially mystery, but that is not the point of this post. This is about the importance of beauty. One quality essential to living well in the world at a time…

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