I cannot remember a time when I was not intensely aware of beauty. One of my earliest memories (I think I must have been six) was of lying on my back on a thick bed of forest duff, running my eyes up a massive red trunk to the ancient, elephantine branches of a great Sequoia framed in billowing white cumulus. A few years later, on a Girl Scout winter campout, I wandered away from the group for over an hour to sit on a stump in the snow, simply to gaze. But to gaze with a (for a ten-year-old) remarkably unwavering and focused attention.
In his best-selling book on the industrialized food system in America, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan writes about his quest to prepare a meal from animals and plants that he has personally hunted and gathered. Part of this quest requires that he track down and shoot a wild boar. Though he has always scoffed at what he refers to as “hunter’s porn,” or the rhapsodic descriptions by macho writers like Hemingway and Ortega y Gasset of what it’s like to singlehandedly kill a large and dangerous mammal, he finds to his amazed chagrin that as soon as he enters the forest with a gun, he begins to
experience what he calls “hunter’s eye,” or a hyper-awareness of his surroundings that involves both intellect and senses and feels downright primitive. Nothing moves, no twig snaps, no scent drifts past that he does not immediately register.
I believe that my lifetime quest for beauty is in some ways like Pollan’s quest for the wild boar; it requires a spiritual version of the hunter’s eye.