As we wend our various ways through these difficult days, all of which suggests future days we cannot see, it is perhaps not a bad idea to remind ourselves of the eternal verities, especially of those to which Mr. Ruskin constantly pointed us: namely, to the glories of nature, glories which, daily, call for our attention, attention which, given brings us joy and helps distract us from the routine and the sadness of our current world situation.
In which context , this story: Just a couple of days ago, as an unquestionable example of the supporting fors at work, I received an email from Frank Gordon, Ruskin lover, inveterate UK hiker with his wife Sheila, and artist (https://fineartamerica.com/profiles/1-frank-gordon). It seems that Frank and Sheila had recently been hiking up the mountain known as The Old Man high above Coniston Water in the Lake District. High too is that same mountain above Brantwood, Ruskin’s home on the east side the lovely lake below. As they reached the top, not surprisingly, the Gordons looked back, across the water, to Brantwood, to see this:
How wonderful this! As it happens, I have never been to Brantwood in high fall, so, for me, the Gordons’ view was a revelation. As it should be. As in (from Modern Painters II):
The work of the great spirit of Nature is as deep and unapproachable in the lowest as in the noblest objects–the Divine Mind is as visible in its full energy of operation on the lowly bank and moldering stone as in the lifting of the [great mountain] pillars of heaven, and in the settling of 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 moldering of the dust as in the kindling of the day-star.
Which revealing got me thinking about home, and about our now fading fall over here, about, more specifically, the fall on display in some littler things. Such as:
Not a hundred yards from our house, on the edge of our glacial lake, Seneca by name, a profusion of sumac grows. Most of the year we give it a pass. We register it as nice, as dark green, with banana-shaped leaves that wave gingerly and engagingly in the wind. But that’s about it. Then, it, by this time, surely a little miffed by the inattention it has been accorded by so many summer passers-by, comes to its fall moments:
Astonishing, isn’t it? But, then, less than a hundred yards to the south, after taking some minutes to absorb this marvel, if we look, we find our eyes delighting in in a different sort of sumac–a variety unwilling to accede pride of place to its ostentatious orange neighbor–doing, if the wind is up at all, its best tarantella, in roaring red…
…while, just across the street, we see that a locust, another of those trees which is almost-always-ignored-during-the-summer, for the week and a half it that has been allotted to it to bestow its blessings, has donned its best yellow dress and…
…while, a half block away, a maple, having heard all those hyperbolic reports about pretentious sumacs and attention-grabbing locusts, has directed all of its life-force into its leaves for our pleasure…
All of which reminds us of the Gordons’ distant view of Brantwood from atop Coniston’s Old Man and a recollection that, over here, on the other side of an ocean, we have been gifted with our own inspiring views from afar, as this lovely image of two of our littlest lakes–Lamoka and (in the distance) Waneta–in the Finger Lakes attests, a view only possible at this unique time of year when all the tinier images just above coalesce to create this glorious amalgamation.
Which, again, as well it should, brings us to another of to Mr. Ruskin’s reminders about how critical it is for each of us to find ways to bring (absorb really) Nature into our lives, particularly in stressful times. The words come from his first series of lectures to his Oxford students in 1869.
If it is not human design you are looking for, there is more beauty in the next wayside bank than in all the sun-blackened paper you could collect in a lifetime [he means photographs, then newly available]. Go and look at the real landscape, and take care of it. Do not think you can get the good of it in a black stain…in a folio.
But if you care for human thought and passion, then learn yourselves to watch the course and fall of the light by whose influence you live, and to share in the joy of human spirits in the heavenly gifts of sunbeam and shade. For I tell you truly, that to a quiet heart, and healthy brain, and industrious hand, there is more delight and use in the dappling of one wood-glade, with flowers and sunshine, than to the restless, heartless, and idle could be brought by a panorama of a belt of the world photographer round the equator.
Fall is fast falling away for this year. May you find ways to enjoy its last marvelous days whether you are in the UK, North America, India, or Sri Lanka–where, as we now all know, Ruskin once was, and, in his special way, still is (194: Ruskin in Sri Lanka: Stories and Reflections in Celebration of Mahatma Gandhi’s 151st Birthday), an observation Frank Gordon underscores in a sentence that appears at the end of the e-mail that set this whole post in motion.(He and Sheila were staying in a B and B in Coniston, across the lake from Brantwood.)
It was very strange and rather comforting to be able to look out from our window across the lake to Brantwood every day; very easy to imagine Ruskin still there, gazing across the water from his turret window. In a sense, he’s never left.
Do remain well out there.
Until next time.