By James Bishop Jr.
(August 11, 2013)
Beauty is everlasting and dust is for a time
Depending upon who discusses butterflies as this astounding summer winds down either they have disappeared or they are seen everywhere in Camp Verde. Next, either the Verde River is safe from developers and deranged politicians, or it may soon run dry. Finally, either beauty has become a mere commodity separate from commercial hustle and bustle or deliberations about arts and culture remain dominant in political and public discourse.
Well, not just bees are in danger butterflies are too. Take Monarch butterflies those beautiful and storied creatures that migrate south for the winter and north for the summer, just as do many humans. Shockingly, this year the number of Monarchs that took up their habitual winter quarters at a forest in Mexico fell to a two-decade low. Imagine the chagrin of Mexican wildlife authorities and tourism officials who count on the vast clouds of butterflies as a big draw. Experts blame the drought and heat of climate change, as well as farming practices that have wiped out much of the milkweed that nourishes the butterflies during their commute.
So what? Naturalists regard the butterflies as a forward indicator of the health of the food chain. Fewer butterflies means fewer other insects that are food for bird, so fewer birds for larger predators, and truly important, what will become of the sugary flower nectar, from wild and cultivated flowers, the butterfly’s main source of food. This is disturbing, to say the least. Due to the ubiquitous use of herbicide on corn and soybean crops, the milkweed wiped out in the Midwest and with it much of the butterflies’ food supply.
Am I a man dreaming I was a butterfly or am I now a butterfly dreaming I am a man.
— Chuang-Tzu (369-286 B.C.
What of beauty? The topic of beauty, by most standards, is being neglected, not just in discussions about the New West, but in almost all discussions. To state legislators and small town politicians, making music, dancing, decorating, and acting is being dismissed as either bewildering or inessential—or both. At best, art is being treated as a superstructure, rather than a fundamental human activity having no bearing on the more important occupations of human society. Citing the old saying that beauty is only skin deep, any talk about it in most circles hardly goes much deeper. So, today, reference to beauty as a deep valuing of experience is not to be found in political or economic discourse. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” sing songs the well-worn cliché. Baloney insists this pilgrim: beauty is something in and of itself and can be happy anywhere, anytime, any place—it can be the visiting hummingbird, the flash of a deer disappearing into the bush, the laughter of a lovely blonde artist.
An opportunity is looming in the Verde Valley to celebrate and save the Verde River, Arizona’s only indigenous river, the source of 30 percent of Greater Phoenix’s water supply, and upon which 3.5 million citizens depend, and flowing with histories and mysteries. Yet political action to save the river is frozen. What’s more serious is that so few citizens are even aware of its existence. Unaware people make lousy activists.
Observes Steve Ayers, historian, sometime writer and Camp Verde city official, “as long as the Verde flows, we are demonstrating love for what we were given—as well as love for one another. If the Verde were to disappear, we would reveal that our true love was for ourselves.” What would it be like without the beauty and the life-giving benefits of Verde River? Let the nightmares commence.
What about books? Now for the pain here and now. Sometimes one reads something in a newspaper that strikes home, hits home I should say. Such is the case with something the author Amy Wilentz penned recently “books are my enemy, though they used to be my great love. They are taking over—rooms, garages, closets, porches.”
Cut to the car trunk of this humble scrivener and what is to be found? Books taken to Sedona Recycles to find new homes, given the fact that the owner of those books has so many of them piled hither and yon about his dwelling, that he is in danger of being caught in a book-slide, pinned to the floor by a Mo Udall, an Ed Abbey, an Ellen Meloy, spiritual handbooks, Robinson Jeffers, a Cornville phone book.
Why are they still in the trunk? Guilt over what their fate might be. Maybe the next owners won’t see them as friends. Then where will I be? Found under a pile of Barry Lopez books!