The rain patters gently on the boathouse roof. Below me I can hear the boats bumping against the dock, pulling at their ropes as the waves toss them about. From the window the lake looks grey and cold. Whitecaps form in the open water. The clouds are low in the sky, weighing down the morning like a soggy sweater.
I don’t know what to write about today. It seems like I have a hundred different ideas cluttering my head. I want to write about beauty, but where to start? I remember a philosophy course I took years ago. We discussed the idea of intrinsic beauty: Does beauty exist out in the world waiting for us to discover it? Or is it a human idea, an artefact that requires both knowledge and understanding?
I glance at a photo of my husband and son that sits on top of a pile of pictures on the table beside my laptop. Their heads touch side by side on the floor; my husband is looking directly at the camera, while my son smiles at something to the side of it. In my husband’s eyes I see so much of who he is. He’s not the type of person to rush into anything without thinking it through. It’s hard to make him angry because he prefers to be happy. He’s inquisitive, yet shy. There is confidence in his eyes, but he holds back from showing his emotions. My son, on the other hand, is about to burst into laughter. Like his father he’s happy most of the time, and he has the same blue eyes and thoughtful nature — most of the time. But, at other times I see a bit of me in him, such as when he expresses each and every emotion the instant it flies through him.
In this picture my husband and son are both beautiful. It captures what our new beauty columnist, Yanka Van der Kolk, would describe as their essence (page 18.)
When I think of natural beauty I connect it to serenity. I think of the lake at dawn, with its still, smooth surface; or at night when moonlight shines a path over the waves to my feet. Or when we lie on the dock and watch the sky for falling stars while crickets fill the night air with their calls. I don’t think you can separate the idea of serenity from beauty in the natural world.
Last weekend I was sitting with my son at the cottage under the shade of a pine tree. We were looking at the branches of the tree above us, the dark green needles contrasted against the clear blue sky. A slight breeze whispered through the pines and birdsong echoed from the forest. It was a beautiful moment and I wondered if my son felt the same sense of awe and serenity that I was feeling.
I watched him stare at the tree above, it seemed to quiet him, but just as I began to think he was sharing the beauty with me, he became fascinated with the buckle that secured him to his chair and tried to eat it. I am now of the opinion that beauty is a human construction that requires knowledge and the capacity to form and connect ideas.
I’m not sure how old I was when I first began to notice beauty in things. I think my earliest memory of beauty was when I was about five or maybe six. It was a hot summer day and my brother and I had wandered into a neighbour’s field. The tall grass came up to our waists and so naturally we were pretending to be explorers hacking through the jungle. After traveling imagined miles we stopped for a rest and lay down in the tall grass. I still remember the sweet smell of the grass and the coolness of the ground and trying to see shapes in the puffy clouds that floated above us. I remember feeling as if I never wanted to leave that moment.
The wind has changed and the rain no longer patters on the roof over my head. The clouds have lifted and the sun breaks through, promising a warm afternoon. Shafts of sunlight create patches over the steel grey lake. Here, at the cottage, beauty surrounds me, but maybe it’s simply that I have time to sit, to think, to listen and to notice what the world has to offer.