Sunday, September 18, 2011

Grace and Beauty in Unexpected Things

Sumer is winding down. Here and there Autumn is beginning to peak through the tree leaves. She stirs the weather patterns changing not only the appearance of the sky but the way the air smells, too. The wild roses have long dropped their petals and now have big hips. Raptors will soon migrate, and insects will hibernate or complete their warm weather life cycles. This time my post isn't about painting or drawing. It's about something I've noticed in nature. Sometimes I'm surprised to find beauty in otherwise unpleasant creatures.

Vultures have often visited me when I’ve been landscape painting in the mountains. They're more interested in me, I'm sure, than in what I'm painting. Since I’m focused on what I'm doing, I usually don’t know they’re there until one of the vultures strikes me with it’s shadow. That’s when I look up, startled, to see them swooping and gliding, obviously enjoying their ride. Sometimes one or another of them will fly close enough that I can see them cock their red head to observe me. They’ll do this for a little while, then slowly move off, regaining altitude. I have to admit, I enjoy watching them fly. They seem to take such pleasure in their gliding flight, especially on windy days. I’ll also admit I hope vultures never get TOO close!

During the height of summer, huge swarms of pale midges appear near Utah Lake. Their masses form clouds and wispy columns that look like smoke from small, scattered campfires. These insects are about the size of mosquitoes, maybe a little bigger. They don’t bite, however, and cause no problems, unless you happen to blunder into one of their low swarms. Then you run the risk of accidentally inhaling one or two of them. *cough*yuck*

One evening in June I was walking along the bank of the Provo River near the lake. Earlier in the day the weather had been unsettled, but now the clouds were clearing out. The air was quite pleasant, though the breezes were still gusty. The sun had set, and an orange glow on the western horizon offset the deepening blue of the coming night. I stopped to watch one of these swarms of midges as it hovered above the trees by the river. The gusty breezes forced the swarm into fascinating shapes and patterns. The swarm would stretch and collapse, divide and rejoin, swirl and form graceful arabesques. Rarely do I think of insects as graceful, but this swarm of midges seemed to be. I watched the midges for several minutes.

Suddenly, three ospreys came wheeling overhead, circling and calling a few times before heading off northward. There might be grace and beauty in vultures and midges, but ospreys still trump them!

A few stars began to appear in the eastern sky, and I headed home.

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