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What Beauty Does by Shelly Armitage

Tiia Monto, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikime

What Beauty Does
by Shelley Armitage

This is Shelley Armitage for Radio Readers Book Bytes wishing you a good day. Writing my memoir, Walking the Llano about life along the Middle Alamosa Creek in the western Panhandle, I thought often about what Leslie Marmon Silko says about landscape. Landscape is not something “out there,” but we are a part of the very boulders we stand on, she says.

In my recent book of poems, A Habit of Landscape, I explore and try to bear witness to what it means to dwell within that kinship. For as Erkhart Tolle says, we need to go beyond the mental habit of naming and labeling which can reduce nature to a commodity—the ancient forest becomes timber, the mountain something to be mined or conquered.

“Once we become aware of a plant’s emanation of stillness and peace,” he says, “that plant becomes your teacher.” In his book, Stillness Speaks, he reminds us we are not separate from nature and that the harmony and sacredness that permeate nature is also within us. He writes: “When you recognize the sacredness, the beauty, the incredible stillness and dignity in which a flower or animal exists, you add something to that flower or animal. Through your awareness nature too comes to know itself.”

The following poem from A Habit of Landscape suggests such kinship.

What Beauty Does

Two trees, in a stand of five, arthritic

they call them when knotted that way.

Immigrant (Chinese or Siberian), invasive

you’re called, seeds spawn in worldly

dispersal.  Amber roots survive alkali

soils; mottled gray bark a leathery rivulet,

leaves, fishbone veined, clutch air.

You may be sixty years old, one hundred or more:

an epidermal knuckle, a pucker permanently hinged.

What of beauty defined this way?

I’d like to think you two did the tango—

one rooted in the other—or a florid

Folk dance, maybe a fox trot, a dance of the hours.

Underground, fibrous skirts a twirl of sheltered pain—

the drought years, beetles, an inevitable rooting core.

You stand upright among humbled grasses.

So entwined we’d like to be

holding hands like trees.

Modest their love affair

until one dies and the other,

once so leafed and full of life, now,

just this spring, stands bare.

I’m Shelley Armitage for Radio Readers Book Bytes wishing you a beautiful day. Please follow me at https://shelleyarmitage.com/ where my new book, A Habit of Landscape, is featured.

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Shelley Armitage grew up in the small ranching and farming community of Vega, Texas, in Oldham County in the northwest Texas Panhandle. She still owns and operates the family farm inherited from her parents. Most of her adult life has been spent away from the Panhandle as a university professor in Texas, New Mexico, and Hawai’i, but Armitage always has returned to the “farm”—mainly in summers—which offered until recently a 360 degree view of earth and sky. Witnessing the natural world and its changes remains for her a centering and care-giving activity.