One simple and meaningful way to find and make beauty for a place—and actually to do both at the same time—is to praise it. Praising a clearcut forest, a littered beach, a raccoon killed by a car, we come more deeply into the wholeness, the complexity, the entire loveliness of what is before us. Praising a place or a being, especially if we do it out loud, threads a connection between ourselves and this vulnerable Other. We recognize truths that would have escaped us if we had kept our thoughts and our attention to ourselves. As we offer words of praise, we are able both to see the beauty of this being and, at the same time, to give a gift of beauty back to it.
The following passage is from the chapter “Patricia Westerford” in Richard Powers’s acclaimed novel, The Overstory.
She addresses the cedar, using words of the forest’s first humans. “Long Life Maker. I’m here. Down here.” She feels foolish, at first. But each word is a little easier than the next. “Thank you for the baskets and the boxes. Thank you for the capes and hats and skirts. Thank you for the cradles. The beds. The diapers. Canoes. Paddles, harpoons, and nets. Poles, logs, posts. The rot-proof shakes and shingles. The kindling that will always light.” Each new item is release and relief. Finding no good reason to quit now, she lets the gratitude spill out. “Thank you for the tools. The chests. The decking. The clothes closets. The paneling. I forget. . . . Thank you,” she says, following the ancient formula. “For all these gifts that you have given.” And still not knowing how to stop, she adds, “We’re sorry. We didn’t know how hard it is for you to grow back.”