Monday, May 31, 2010

5.28 Everything Looks Good From a Distance


Even the laurel bush has assumed the status of an old tree in the forest, the lower limbs dying and falling off, but the canopy fluffing up against the sky. The view is improved because the pink-edged blossoms on the bush have arranged themselves around the tree’s curved surfaces. From the perspective of my window, at least, it has a relaxed, graceful contour and a flowerful future. A couple of foxgloves have sent up their spires, visible from the same perspective – that would be mine – so now we have something like a skyline developing. A few gleaming towers, promising to be white – white towers – will share the upper story with the white and pink florets of the laurel.
The forest-loving laurel – one of our traditional favorites; we have tried to grow them other places – has struggled since I planted it five years ago; the evidence is those old, graying, quite dead lower branches. It doesn’t win any prizes close up but – as I say – from a distance it’s holding up its end of the viewspace.
Or viewscape. In the environmentally sensitive future, I suspect, the property value determinant will not be plot size, which is to say abstract “flatscape,” but the view from plein aire. It’s what we see from our homes that matters.
When we lived in Plymouth, the luxury empty-nester development called The Pinehills ran with this concept by offering people small lots within a thousand acres of surrounding open green space. Everybody’s widows looked out at an attractive landscape. Everybody had a view.
Someone should come up with a way to test this theory: what matters to us is what we see, rather than what we own.
There is pride in a big spread, I’m sure, and value – if you’re a cattle rancher. Or a landlord to a small, suffering multitude of tenant farmers. Or if you plan on riding to the foxes. (Or is “to the hounds?”) I’m sure riding, for whatever purpose, is a pleasant occupation, and I know from experience that walking to no other accompaniment than your own thoughts stimulated by a green, living environment is an entirely gratifying experience – one of the few things in life that you don’t get tired of no matter how much you change and grow old… but to do either, to walk or ride through open space, what you need is for open green space to continue to exist. You don’t need to own it.
We do own our “property.” It is our own piece of “nature.” So, it follows – at least to me – that what we can do with our home properties is to treat them in a way that will bring us some of the satisfactions that we find in nature. Wild nature.
That is to say, when we make a garden, it is not just, or even primarily, the desire to make something beautiful, but to make an environment – micro as it is – that nourishes us as nature does. It’s mini-nature. It’s a small bite of the wilderness that, as Thoreau says, preserves the world.
Contact with green nature nourishes some part of our brain, or senses – or soul. Here’s a stipulative definition: by “soul” we mean the part of our being that responds to nature as it does to love, art and kindness. That has, in some true measure, over the eons, been formed by nature.
Frankenstein’s monster walks among the trees and is soothed by the sights, sounds and smells. He delights in bird song and the swaying of the branches. It’s people he can’t stand…. That’s the way Mary Shelley, who wrote the book, told it, and I think she’s right. Or more right than wrong.
So we need to be “surrounded” at least some of the time, by a non-manmade environment. We don’t live in the woods. We don’t even live in the suburbs. People need to walk among trees – that’s the job of parks and wooded public lands. But we don’t live there, we live “here.” But if we want to, we can have a little bit of “there” – here. We can make a little green world just outside our door.