I’ve been listening to Stravinsky and thinking about beauty and about stamp collecting and bird watching. Time was, I couldn’t imagine bird watching as a hobby. Now, it seems pretty appealing. Stamp collecting, not so much. But they’re sort of the same thing.
Sort of, because birds are more beautiful than stamps. At least, that’s the way I feel now. The same thing, because stamps can be quite beautiful. The beauty of stamps is hidden to me at the moment; the right experience could certainly unlock it. There may be a glut of beauty in this world waiting to be noticed.
In fact, I’m starting to think bird watching is the perfect metaphor for a life well lived. You collect experiences. You have a list and you move down it, making sure you experience everything on your list. I used to think this was somehow unnatural or unholy or unfun. Why? I supposed because I feared a sort of check-the-box mentality, in which the experience wasn’t all. It was just something to do. Something to check off on the way to the grave. The more boxes checked, the higher the satisfaction. The content of the boxes was immaterial. From triumphs over substance.
But you have to take satisfaction wherever you can get it. If the best you can do is check the boxes—great. Good for you. Enjoy filling in those little squares with a crisp check-mark. If you can enjoy the activity represented by the checks, perhaps better. For me, checking off boxes isn’t very satisfying. So I seem to need (for now) a little more. A little beauty behind the boxes.
A little what? Beauty? Yeah. It’s not very hard to appreciate, really. It’s everywhere, from bumble bees to Stravinsky concertos to the fuzzy ears on a cat. It’s rightness of proportion, an undeniably human sensation or proper construction and harmony and balance. It’s not defined by some authority or tradition. Its teachers are corn flowers and Mendelsohn piano music and the abstractions of Sean Scully, DNA and the second law of thermodynamics and the steam engine. It’s everywhere.