This first week back in New England after sun filled days in the Caribbean has been so gray. No spectacular sunrises. No colorful illuminations of the hills as the sun sets. Intermittent brightness throughout each day only to be dominated by dull warm clouds blowing through again. The contrast from where I have just been,
to where I am now
is a big one. Walking in the woods is now a monotone of form and color and I realize I have started looking, looking for what I can usually see right in front of me. I am looking for beauty.
Of course as soon as I realize this, my senses open in a different way. Wondering if looking isn’t just seeing with an added expectation attached. I laser in on the smallest ray of light glinting off the now meager crystalline remains of ice and snow.
It is a slow process, this looking. Very different than the speed at which something can be registered when encountered and demanding to be seen. Finding the light is key here. Even if I can’t actually feel the warmth in the smallest ray of this light, I feel the warmth. That’s when beauty appears, deep inside, timeless. It’s like those famous credit card commercials, ‘price of a cup of water, $2, price of a walk in the woods, $50, seeing beauty in the most mundane of subjects, priceless.
I am so starved for seeing beauty that I relish even the scrub of a carrot, removing the rich earth it has been sheathed in since being pulled from the ground, to reveal a crisp satiny orange freshness.
So beautiful! I am even aware of how I am responding to photos of men when perusing the dating site I currently participate in. What a process. Always looking for the light and beauty there, I realize for me it is always in the smile. Looking at a photo with no smile is like looking at the gray in the woods, there is simply no light showing, nothing to prompt me to see, or look deep inside. Noticing that I want to skip over the profiles with no pictures. Here too I am forced to look for the beauty in whatever words are offered. It’s hard to trust the words without some form of light. But light can come, even here, in the form of discernment that trust in the beauty of what is being offered can develop and be seen.
Coming into the kitchen however, there is always an opportunity to easily see and feel the beauty I crave. Even a routine chicken dinner can feel like art, elevating the process of cooking a simple split roaster into an event that involves the heft of my large cast iron skillet large, lots of thickly sliced onions, fresh lemon, dried lemon balm from my kitchen garden stock, some poultry seasoning, and a bowlful of the bountiful vegetables that are always on hand these days. The skin side of the chicken wants to be browned before being set on the fragrant bed of onions to finish cooking. Seasoned chicken (skin side down) and onions
go into a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes. Turn the oven down to 375, flip chicken over to onions, and spread vegetables, lightly coated with olive oil, to fill the pan where sizzled chicken has left a hint of delicious fat. Add more salt and pepper, a little water, and the juice of a lemon squeezed over it all.
Bake until everything is fork tender, about one hour more for the 2-1/2 lbs of chicken. The unexpected discovery of this meal is the way the onions carmelized into crunchy blackened delights around the edges of the pan.
So good. Beauty here is in the moments of the process like, ‘ooh, I can use the onions under the chicken to cushion the exposed fleshy part’ and ‘hmmm, I wonder if I will be able to taste this fragrant lemon balm’, and ‘ah, what a great composition in the pan…’
I guess a week is the charm. Today is bright blue sky and penetrating sun. It is so clear I can even see into the floor of the forest again.
Now I’m thinking that looking might actually be necessary. It might be what we need to do, in the absence of obvious beauty, to find trust and acceptance with exactly what is there. Or it might simply be the otherwise humbling path of seeing into a depth, deeper than we think we know.