That Rose Porter! She is an insistent and persistent soul!
There I was in the living room hunting for a record to play when, from her honored place in the nearby bookcase which holds my favorite Ruskin books, she spoke up, startling me and admonishing me for not picking her book, Nature Studies from Ruskin, up again–it was, after all, the height of spring!–for not intending to go back and reread all those passages she had worked so intently to compile for us a hundred and some more years ago (Post 115). “But,” I protested, “I’ve read you all the way through at least twice; I’ve lingered over every passage you put in your book. They were beautiful; they helped me to be so much more sensitive to Ruskin’s love of Nature than any other book.” “That may be so,” Rose rejoined, “and I’m very glad of it. But every year Nature is new, and you are new, and, for just those two reasons, many of my passages will be be new too. If you read them again, you’ll read them differently; many will be clearer. You’ll find there are some you really didn’t understand before! Ruskin is like that; Shakespeare is like that; all great art is like that. It’s a mistake not to read Ruskin on spring in spring!”
And so, rather shamefacedly, I succumbed, and carried petulant Rose out to the porch where, opening her book, I immediately found that she–was there ever any doubt?!–was perfectly right. Here’s a bit which graces her early pages, a pair of sentences whose deeper significance I had missed when I first read them on a duller day. I hadn’t even marked them as significant. She found them in the first volume of Modern Painters (1843). Their truth was instantly verifiable just by looking at the nearby trees:
The truths of Nature are one eternal change, one infinite variety. There is no bush on the face of the globe exactly like another bush. There are no two trees in the forest whose boughs bend on the same tree network which could not be told from the other, or two waves of the sea exactly alike.
Here’s Ruskin’s own verification of his insight, his exquisite drawing of an oak branch in 1856. It has its home in The Pierpont Morgan Library in New York.
Here’s a second verification, gladly given by a few of the incredible peonies presently frolicking in our small garden at the front of the house. (It’s been an especially splendid year for peonies; lots of rain!)
But his point could have just as easily been made by our rhododendrons of a week or so ago. [I’m having a fine time using flowers as examples because, as Mr. Ruskin made clear in an earlier post, “Flowers are for joy!” (Post 131)]
However, lest we drink too long at the same well, here’s an admonition (from Modern Painters III; 1854), that good Ms. Porter reminds us of in a passage I read the following morning:
It is not sufficient that the facts or the features of Nature be around us while they are not within us. We may walk day by day through grove and meadow, and scarcely know more concerning them as is known by bird and beast–that the one has shade for the head and the other softness for the foot. It is not true that “the eye, it cannot choose but see” [from Wordsworth’s “Exposition and Reply”] unless we obey the following condition: [that we] go forth “in a wise passiveness” free from that plague of our own hearts which brings [with it] the shadow of ourselves, and the tumult of our petty interestes and impatient passion across the light and calm of Nature… You may rest assured that those who do not care for Nature cannotsee her. A few of her phenomena lie on the surface; the nobler number lie deep, and are the [true] reward of watching and thought. Nature keeps whatever she has done best close sealed close, until it is regarded with reverence.
As surely is illustrated by the spectacular iris below, blooming along with the peonies in our little garden, a spectacularity which, I noticed, was never noticed by any of the dozens who walked by our house during the three days it was the perfect emboidment of irisness:
Three days! Only three days! Then the perfect iris went away: curling, drying out, drooping. Gone! Missed, or, alternatively, missed. Of such floral transience Book Rose had this to say the next morning in a second passage she found in Modern Painters I:
Though Nature is constantly beautiful, she does not exhibit her highest powers of beauty constantly, for then they would satiate us and pall upon our senses. It is necessary to their apreciation that they should be rarely shown. Her finest touches are things that must be watched for, her most perfect passages of beauty are the most evanescent. She is constantly doing something beautiful for us, but it is something she has not done before and will not do again, some exhibition of her general powers in particular circumstances which, if we do not catch it at the instant it is passing, will not be repeated for us.
That same day, I received an email from my good colleague, Renee Monson. Renee, some might recall, was the one who, long ago, gifted me with the idea for this website (Post 1: “Every Dawn of Morning”) As it happens, she is a gardener of the most accomplished and distinguished sort, reveling in the planting, caring for, and enjoyment of the life and fleeting beauty of her plants, flowers mostly, roses most especially (Book Rose would be extremely pleased.) Renee wrote: “More rosebushes continue to explode in the garden, in various shades of pink and white and yellow! Stop by whenever you are in the neighborhood and take a look. Nature’s masterpiece changes daily!”
And so, that afternoon, Jenn and I did just that–went to the neighborhood to take a look. Here is a little of what we saw (note: not one of these pictures, whether above or below, has been retouched). Galaxies unfolding!
Her Julia Child rose:
Her Gertrude Jekyll rose (her favorite):
But then my eye spied still another rose, a few yards away, shining in an overgrown space overflowing with luxuriating plants: Renee said it was a “Tahitian Sunset,” sharing its space with some sweet geraniums.
It was a rose which, having never seen one before, I though beautiful beyond all telling, my favorite, a status it secured by showing another iteration of itself a yard away:
Then, as fors would have it, the next morning, Book Rose cited yet another lovely selection of Ruskin’s, this one from Modern Painters II:
The work of the great Spirit of Nature is as deep and unapproachable in the lowest as in the noblest subjects. [That Spirit] as visible in its full energy of operation on every lowly bank and mouldering stone as in the lifting of [the mountains, the] pillars of heaven, and settling the foundation of the earth. And, to the rightly perceiving mind, there is the same infinity, the same majesty, the same power, the same unity, and the same perfection manifest in the casting of the clay as in the scattering of the cloud, in the mouldering of the dust as in the kindling of the daystar.
Sunset on Mont Blanc, Chamouni, French Alps, 2017
As I type, fleeting spring has officially become summer: its irises and peonies have accomplished their appointed tasks; the glorious roses are starting to fade, their time for enchanting us coming to its end.
No matter. Summer’s here! bringing with it another assembly of delights.
(I suppose I should not miss this chance to note that roses were always Ruskin’s favorite, symbols in their perfect embodiments of the astonishing complexity and beauty of all creation.)
Abiding thanks to insistent, petulant Rose Porter; abiding thanks to my flower-loving gardener and good colleague, Renee Monson; abiding thanks to the genius guide who is the subject of these posts, John Ruskin; most especially, abiding thanks to the inextinguishable, infinite wonder of Nature.
Be well out there!
Until next time.
P.S.: If you have gotten to this point, I suggest that you have a look at the next post, “Involuntary Fellowship” (#151) because, and again as fors would have it, our Book Rose was hardly finished, providing me, a couple of days after I finished this offering, with another wonderful bit of Ruskin that can serve as a marvelous coda to all that’s above. (To boot–as is not always the case with these missives!–it’s short!)