Steve McEllistrem

The Devereaux Dilemma

Reflection on Beauty

I squandered a week in Arizona recently, writing nothing, instead hiking the desert Southwest, ogling the cacti and lizards who populate the area, climbing toward the peaks of the foothills of the Rockies, descending to valleys that harbored mansions and pools and wealth that spat their defiance at the barren landscape, proclaiming the superiority of man over nature.

I sat in the early morning with friends and relatives as the sun eased itself over the horizon, painting the sky with a palette of red and gold as it emerged from a night of chilled slumber, teasing the heat to come, the lag of Sol as it bathed the sand flirting with me for more than an hour before delivering any actual warmth.

I reclined in the evening, gazing out at the mountains edging toward pinkness on their way to puce, sipping my margarita or Mexican beer, interrupting my conversation every few minutes to glory in the scenery one cannot find in Minnesota.

The sun’s rays, not nearly as hindered by ice or water crystals in the air as they are in the Northland, pelted me during the hot days, attacking the sunscreen I lathered upon my white flesh in the hope of avoiding further bouts of skin cancer. The heat, the precious heat of the desert, serenaded me – a siren call nearly impossible to resist.

At night, even in close proximity to the city, to the lights that advertised the presence of people who spend their days in a kind of friendly antagonism to the harshness of the elements, I saw stars I hadn’t seen in years. The dryness of the air eroded the clouds, denuded the atmosphere to the point where it could hardly interfere with my view of Cassiopeia and Orion and Ursus Major and a host of constellations I no longer know.

I became convinced I spotted Jupiter or Saturn or possibly Mercury though my sister told me the “planet” I was seeing was likely a star that only seemed to burn brighter here, that delivered a light less obstructed by water. Having no binoculars, not thinking far enough ahead to prepare for such a visual treat, I could not argue the point even had I wished to. I merely delighted in the luminance.

When my visit came to its inevitable conclusion, when I found myself back above the earth on my journey home, while I contemplated the loveliness I had seen in the scarcity I beheld, I came to realize again that beauty is an ever-changing mystery, sometimes accentuated by familiarity and other times accelerated by the absence of what we know, by the lack of the everyday.

I told myself to look again at my narrow world, my familiar turf, and see it as if I were a stranger, coming from an alien landscape and delighting in the commonalities I take for granted, the plentiful water, the lush growth, the overflowing wildlife, even the mosquitoes (okay, maybe not the mosquitoes).

But life and even the absence of life can be beautiful when looked at in the right way. So I squandered a week in Arizona recently and I’m ever so grateful I did.


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