I knew that Tuesday is free day at Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden, and all around I was seeing the Rhododendrons blooming, so last Tuesday I decided to make my way over to the garden between classes at Portland State University. The day was sunny, the garden 15 minutes from school, the break between Music History and American Musical Traditions was from 12:00 to 2:00; all in all a good scheme. There was one problem – during this break I usually hole up in a dark fluorescent lit practice room and try to improve my Violin skills, but the sunny garden called! And I with Christina Rossetti said –
“I’ve half a mind to shake myself
Free just for once from London,
To set my work upon the shelf
And leave it done or undone;
To run down by the early train,
Whirl down with shriek and whistle,
And feel the bluff North blow again,
And mark the sprouting thistle
Set up on waste patch of the lane
Its green and tender bristle”
More than half a mind really – my London of course being Portland State University, my Highlands Crystal Springs, and my Thistles Rhododendrons. Perhaps too much of the time I choose to leave my work upon the shelf, and run down by whatever early train I can hop on, but this time I really wouldn’t have bothered leaving my London had I not advertised the night before on Facebook that I was going be at the garden between noon and 2. It helped me follow through with going, but the reason I posted aforehand of my planned movements is because I figure advertising on Facebook ups the chance that I’ll run into a friend when I’m out and about.
The reason I have the desire to run into someone when enjoying natural beauty can be explained by those philosophical words of the the BeeGees: “Everything is nothing, if you’ve got no one”.
In Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White he expands upon the difference between our sympathy for physical creation and our interest in ourselves and other people. He exaggerates this truth, but not without some perception:
“Admiration of those beauties of the inanimate world, which modern poetry so largely and so eloquently describes, is not, even in the best of us, one of the original instincts of our nature. As children, we none of us possess it. ….Our capacity of appreciating the beauties of the earth we live on is, in truth, one of the civilised accomplishments which we all learn as an Art; and, more, that very capacity is rarely practised by any of us except when our minds are most indolent and most unoccupied. How much share have the attractions of Nature ever had in the pleasurable or painful interests and emotions of ourselves or our friends? What space do they ever occupy in the thousand little narratives of personal experience which pass every day by word of mouth from one of us to the other? All that our minds can compass, all that our hearts can learn, can be accomplished with equal certainty, equal profit, and equal satisfaction to ourselves, in the poorest as in the richest prospect that the face of the earth can show. There is surely a reason for this want of inborn sympathy between the creature and the creation around it, a reason which may perhaps be found in the widely-differing destinies of man and his earthly sphere. The grandest mountain prospect that the eye can range over is appointed to annihilation. The smallest human interest that the pure heart can feel is appointed to immortality.”
I don’t agree about children and natural beauty. I have spent hours as a child and with children admiring leaves, ladybugs and sunsets. And though he says that in the poorest prospect earth offers, we can be equally satisfied in our minds as in the richest, I doubt he would disagree with me that our minds and spirits naturally thrive better when we walk in the fragrance and beauty of a blooming garden, rather than amid concrete rubble. But he definitely has a point about the thousand little narratives of personal experience that we pass to one another every day; the great weight of our interest is in the feelings of the heart of a man.
While walking about the garden thinking, my brother called and said “Are you here at the garden?” Hooray, my invitation had worked – someone had come! We walked around and talked together . I was late back to class, but I was glad to have spent some time neath the blooming rhododendrons talking with my brother.