Posted by: Bill Tracy | October 13, 2014

Beauty and the Beast

The industrial corporation is the natural enemy of nature.

-Edward Abbey

A beautiful flower on a sunny day.

A beautiful flower on a sunny day.

I was on my second cup of coffee when I saw the flower cut down. It was the only flower. Last year there had been hundreds of them. But last year my friends lived in the house across the street; this year they are gone and an impersonal “lawn service” keeps the vegetation in check while no one occupies the house. Yesterday was a sunny, pleasant day, and I had taken a picture of that lone flower. It was a beautiful flower. I don’t think anyone would argue otherwise. It’s purplish hue probably makes it more a favorite for me than otherwise. Perhaps some reader will know its name; I’m remiss in this regard. If I hadn’t been hopped up on caffeine I could have let it go. By the time the police came, I had to tell them I’m just an eccentric old man and didn’t mean to cause a fuss.

The flower yesterday along the sidewalk in front of the house -- and more flowers on the way.

The flower yesterday along the sidewalk in front of the house — and more flowers on the way.

Flowers are important, at least to me. They aren’t mere decorative items placed around by people with nothing better to do. We humans actually owe our lives to the evolution of flowers. Loren Eiseley, the renowned anthropologist wrote a scintillating little essay that should be required reading for everyone. It’s appropriately entitled How Flowers Changed the World. Here’s an excerpt making the point:

A little while ago — about one hundred million years, as the geologist estimates time in the history of our four-billion-year-old planet — flowers were not to be found anywhere on the five continents. Wherever one might have looked, from the poles to the equator, one would have seen only the cold dark monotonous green of a world whose plant life possessed no other color.

Somewhere, just a short time before the close of the Age of Reptiles, there occurred a soundless, violent explosion. It lasted millions of years, but it was an explosion, nevertheless. It marked the emergence of the angiosperms — the flowering plants. Even the great evolutionist, Charles Darwin, called them “an abominable mystery,” because they appeared so suddenly and spread so fast.

Flowers changed the face of the planet. Without them, the world we know — even man himself — would never have existed. Francis Thompson, the English poet, once wrote that one could not pluck a flower without troubling a star. Intuitively he had sensed like a naturalist the enormous interlinked complexity of life. Today we know that the appearance of the flowers contained also the equally mystifying emergence of man.

The slayer of beauty.

The slayer of beauty.

Blame it on a troubled star, or the caffeine, but I grabbed my camera and went outside. First, I took a picture of the “beast” who had slain the beauty with his monstrous string trimmer. Then I took a picture of the corpse. He asked why I was taking his picture. I told him I wanted a picture of the executioner of my flower. I showed him the picture I had taken of that flower in yesterday’s sunshine. He agreed it was beautiful. I told him I just wanted pictures of the execution. He said it wasn’t my flower — it wasn’t on my property. “Correct you are,” I said, “but the flowers belong to everyone.”

The executioner, of course, is just a young man doing his job. He’s not a bad person, and I didn’t tell him he was doing anything wrong. But he inherently knows the power of pictures. I guess that’s what scared him more than anything. It’s his practice to take a series of pictures of the property when he arrives. Then he takes another series of pictures after he has done his yard maintenance work. I don’t know if the owner requires that or if he simply wants proof in case of a dispute. But he is aware that pictures mean something.

The remains of beauty on a gloomy Monday.

The remains of beauty on a gloomy Monday.

“You have to delete that picture,” he told me. He couldn’t furnish a reason other than his belief that I do not have a right to take his picture. He told me if I didn’t delete it, “Someone will be around to talk to you.” I said fine, I like talking with folks. Then I went back inside.

A few minutes later he knocked on my door. Again he said I must delete the picture. I said I had no reason to delete it. I told him I took the picture when he was in public, standing on a public street next to his truck. He suggested I am not permitted to do that. I explained the law permitted pictures of anyone in public, and when he shook his head no, I said, “Don’t shake your head no, that’s the law.” He unhappily turned and walked away, muttering something about “old man.”

Into November last year, hundreds of flowers.

Into November last year, hundreds of flowers.

A few minutes later, the police officer knocked on my door. He said he had been called about a dispute with the yard worker. I told him my side of the story — and that I know I’m an eccentric old man, but I don’t mean to cause trouble. He laughed. He said he explained to the worker that I have a right to take his picture and that he had no authority to compel me to delete it. The officer asked me if everything was okay.

“Except for a loss of beauty on this otherwise gloomy day, yeah, everything is okay.”

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Responses

  1. I’m glad to see you posted as recently as October 13, Bill. I’ve been wondering if you had left the area, the planet, or the land of the living.


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