Last Friday, after arriving home, I stepped out of the car into yet another dreary, damp evening. This dying dandelion immediately caught my eye. I’m not sure what strange combination of temperature, moisture and atmosphere was at play, but it blazed like a star above the grass. I put everything down and stopped to take a picture. The next morning when I went back to admire it again, all those purple-tipped stellar spikes were lying meekly against the stem. Maybe my cosmic dandelion had gone back to its alter ego stage. Who knew it was capable of this burst of startling beauty?
Early Saturday morning I read Kim Douillard’s weekly challenge, and I knew immediately that Friday night’s dandelion was a starting point. Kim invited readers to find beauty within the seemingly ugly and I was already in that mindset.
Later this weekend, a walk on the beach yielded more unexpected beauty. We arrived late in the afternoon, and the beach was strewn with tide-staggered lines of ocean debris, scenting the air with their pungent sea smell. A closer look at the seemingly ugly, homogenous piles revealed a treasure of texture and a rainbow of colors.
Unusual shapes and objects created multi-hued natural collages. With a vivid splash of color, the polka-dotted kelp air bladder glowed in the afternoon sun as if lit from within. The delicacy of a single white feather contrasted with coarse strands of kelp, the entirety sprinkled with crystalline grains of salt or sand. Each glimpse revealed more variety and beauty. Once started, I could have poked through piles of seaweed for hours.
Back at home in the garden, the skeletal remains of last year’s hydrangea blossoms have a delicate beauty of their own, especially when a petal cups around a drop of water.
After some time working in the garden, I noticed this unexpected visitor. This moth lingered on our window screen for most of a day. I posted its picture on Facebook, asking “Does anyone know what kind of moth this is?” The first response was succinct and, to me, surprising: “ugly.” As other responses came in, most people intimated it was scary or intimidating or in some way unpleasant. I, on the other hand, was fascinated by the scalloped edges of its wings, its curved body, the delicate tracery of lines in its wings and the subtle beauty of its subdued coloring. This was an unexpected twist on Kim’s challenge–something I found beautiful and others did not.
This whole exercise reminded me of the beautiful-eyed skunks in Naomi Shihab Nye’s “A Valentine for Ernest Mann” and the line “Nothing was ugly/just because the world said so.” Kim’s challenge and Nye’s words encourage us to reinvent the world around us by shifting our lens to see the beauty in what at first glance appears ugly or merely unnoteworthy. As Nye writes: