An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of August 17, 2006
Issued from Polly's Bend, Garrard County, in Kentucky's Bluegrass Region, USA

POKEWEED ESTHETICS

One late afternoon this week as I sat on the porch at cottontail-coming-out time I gradually grew aware of something beside me needing attention. It was the 5-ft-high Pokeweed that this spring I'd neglected to cut from among the Yews, knowing just how pretty a Pokeweed could become, and remembering how certain birds love its glossy, black-purple fruits.

And, it was true. Elegantly the simple, yellow-green leaves arced from pink lower stems transitioning to green outer ones, and perfect were the many long racemes of immature, green fruits. Each fruit arose on a pink pedicel issuing perpendicularly from the inflorescences' vertical axis. Each fruiting inflorescence bore larger fruits at its top, the fruits grew smaller toward the bottom, and then at the very tip tiny white, glossy, symmetrical flowers appeared. Long I sat admiring Pokeweed structure, color, texture, symmetry, worthiness and meaning, until darkness closed around us.

More than one person this summer, seeing the Pokeweed growing where it was, has pointed out to me that Pokeweeds are not typically left standing next to one's porch.

Last week, telling about my friend Jarvis's refusal to eat a hamburger made from a soybean-fed cow I touched on the matter of ethics. This week the Pokeweed has me focusing on esthetics. I regard ethics and esthetics as profoundly important in the struggle to protect and conserve life on Earth.

For, lately I have seen a large field of clover bush-hogged "just to clean it up." No hay was made from the clippings. I won't remark on the loss to pollinators and other wildlife, and to one who loved how the wind made waves in the clover, just because of another person's ideas about "cleaning things up." Some years ago an old farmer in my home area bulldozed a bottomland forest I treasured, burned it without selling the logs, and let the land lay unfarmed "just to have it cleaned up."

The point is that the term "clean" as used here so violently and destructively depends hugely on one's ethical and esthetical frame of reference. Any ethical or esthetical framework not taking into account the needs and beauties of the surrounding ecosystem and other living things is unsustainable and dangerous. "Ugly," I would say.

Yet, who is to say that one person's ethics and sense of esthetics is preferable to another's?

To me, that question is like the current debate as to whether smoking is to be allowed in public places. Gradually the consensus is building that with regard to secondhand smoke the public good must be defended at the cost of individual freedoms. How strange, I think, that we should not already have had such a discussion, and come to a similar consensus, with regard to the preservation of the ecosystems that sustain us all as biological beings. Slowly it's becoming "ugly" to stand around with a white cigarette dangling from one's mouth. Why hasn't it become ugly to "clean out" a wildlife-sustaining hedgerow, or put a lawn where a garden or woodlot could be?

My own first introduction to the concept of beauty as a topic that could be thought about came with my out- of-school reading of Emerson's essay on Beauty, today found at http://www.emersoncentral.com/beauty.htm.

"There is no object so foul that intense light will not make beautiful. And the stimulus it affords to the sense, and a sort of infinitude which it hath, like space and time, make all matter gay," Emerson wrote, and I find his point as well taken today as when I was a teenager.

In an earlier essay I described one of my own moments of enlightenment with regard to the matter of beauty, which took place one day when I visited the famous gardens of Schönbrunn Summer Palace in Vienna, Austria, with my friend Dieter. You can read that at http://www.backyardnature.net/j/o/dieter.htm. Facebook Icon.