I thought of John Keats this morning. I was on my daily walk. Since it’s still a little cool in Santa Fe the first thing in the morning (elevation here is 7200 feet), I’ve modified my usual up-and-at-um-first-hour-of-the-day regimen. Instead I satisfy the doctor’s orders by dallying until the air has warmed up a bit, then heading out. One must not get chilled or endure any other discomfort, you understand. At the appropriate hour, then, hardy soul that I am, I venture forth. The paved pathway wends its way through the settlement’s acres of faux adobe houses. It’s quite civilized here. I get back to the house with scarcely a speck of dust on my well-worn Rockports (sturdy shoes for the superannuated); looking at them no one would suspect I’ve been taking a nature walk. As a rule, nature does not pave its paths. We pretend, the developer and I, that the pristine acreage he transformed into a planned residential community has not been unduly disturbed.
But the urbanization of Santa Fe is not what I was thinking of this morning. I was instead absorbing once more the stunning arrival of early spring. I didn’t stop to smell the roses. Roses are timid; they won’t appear in their splendor until later in the season, coaxed along by devoted husbandmen. But I did stop. Repeatedly. I wish I could tell you the names of the species that slowed my progress. You may be able to identify them from the pictures. My ignorance didn’t disturb me, though. I wasn’t cataloguing the plants; I was treasuring the moments. I recalled the opening lines from John Keats’ poem “Endymion,” and that was enough. The words have stayed with me all day:
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing…
The beguiling blossoms on my walk will, I’m afraid, “pass into nothingness” before long. They herald the coming of leaves, urge us to pay attention, remind us that in this world winter doesn’t get the last word. No, the blooms aren’t permanent, but neither will they be quickly forgotten. A touch of beauty lingers long, if not forever. I won’t long remember much of my daily ritual: donning walking duds, leaving the house behind, working up a bit of sweat, treading more slowly toward home than away from it, all in an hour. What I will recall will be these unexpected meetings with beauty.
I push myself on these outings. The point is to get the heart pumping more rapidly, increase the oxygen supply, and coax the ancient machinery to keep functioning a few years longer. That’s my duty. But sometimes beauty compels as duty cannot. So I stop, take in more closely what at first tempts, then lures, then finally conquers. You can always exercise, usually without thinking about it. But only at certain moments does “loveliness” capture, quietening the soul and giving the pounding heart cause to pause and rejoice. In these moments, as Keats observes, are to be found joy and health and peace.
John Keats died young. Tuberculosis claimed him in 1821; he was only 25. He was forced to learn early in life what lasts and doesn’t last. Flesh would fail him; “a thing of beauty” lasts. I am so unlike him. At his age I had little time for beauty (except as embodied in the human female—I quickly married Joy before she was old enough to know better). I had jobs to do, projects to complete, degrees to accumulate, money to earn. Only now, decades older than Keats when he penned this poem, am I beginning to glimpse what he saw so clearly as it was slowly being taken from him. Blossoms don’t last forever; they must be savored in the moment.
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