Red poppies keep the coolness relative.

It has been years since I visited what I call The Rose House, though it probably takes less than fifteen minutes for me to walk there. What I found when I saw it last week was that the whole rose garden in front has been cleaned up, and all the bushes pruned. On the corner opposite, a man was standing in his vast flower garden; I didn’t see him at first, as I paused to admire a giant cistus in bloom, until he said, “It’s a beauty, isn’t it?” After a brief chat I said I had come that way to check out the roses across the street; he told me that the owner lives there himself, and has for a long time. So the reason for the previous unkemptness remains a mystery.

When I set out on my walk I debated taking my phone with me, because I have joined a Digital Detox group for the month of May; those in the group are taking up the challenge to detach as much as possible from our devices, according to the needs of our unique circumstances. Because my phone is my only camera at the ready, I decided to take it with me, though I have been trying to take fewer pictures as well. Since my destination was a particular beauty-soaked spot, I wanted to be equipped.

On this walk I was restrained with my camera. It seems that after having accumulated six or seven years’ worth of photos by means of my phone, the thrill of accumulating them is wearing off. Since 2020, when various forces began trying to separate me from other embodied humans, I’ve been extra aware of how easy it is to substitute indirect for direct experiences; for example, looking at pictures of roses instead of walking down the street to smell a real rose.

Our women’s book group is reading Heidi currently, and I’ve been reveling in the images of the child running all over the mountain and hugging the goats. It’s easy for me to have comparable experiences, now that spring is here and I can feel myself melting into the landscape under the sun’s rays. It is a holistic experience of beauty, in which all of my senses relay to me the many impressions that add up to a Beauty that is greater than all the parts of the moment; and I am certainly in a heavenly realm, compared to what you would see if I sent you a two-dimensional photo of me bending over the flower beds.

In The Master and His Emissary, another book I am dipping into, Iain McGilchrist discusses the different modes of being in the world that the right and left hemispheres of the brain offer. As it relates to beauty, this basic aspect of the left hemisphere is critical:

“The left-hemisphere view is designed to aid you in grabbing stuff. Its purpose is utility and its evolutionary adaptation lies in the service of grasping and amassing ‘things.’” 

McGilchrist says that on the other hand, our relationship with the beautiful “is more like longing, or love, a betweenness, a reverberative process between the beautiful and our selves, which has no ulterior purpose, no aim in view, and is non-acquisitive.” This is something the right brain intuitively and holistically understands.

We don’t go through our days aware of the interactions between the hemispheres of our brain, but a big point of the author’s thesis is that “as a society, we are becoming more like individuals with right hemisphere deficits.”

Just a few hours before I took my Rose Walk, I had been reading the book, and this passage jumped out at me:

“As Alain Corbin has argued, we have become more cerebral, and retreated more and more from the senses – especially from smell, touch and taste – as if repelled by the body; and sight, the coolest of the senses, and the one most capable of detachment, has come to dominate all.”

Because it is so easy for us to capture and share visual images by means of our digital technologies, we are flooded with them. As I made my way over to the Rose House I kept thinking about how rich was my experience outdoors, full of bird song, the  sound of children’s voices at the creek, the particular feel of the early evening air in May, and the scents — the rose scents most of all. And in my pictures, the only thing I would be able to pass on to you would be a record of what my relatively “detached” sense conveyed to me.

“The coolest of the senses.” That statement about our visual sense startled me, and made me want to push back against the image-focused culture that I have embraced, and against my habit of orienting my explorations toward what my camera can do something with. Since the roses themselves are often so heavy with scent, it was not hard to appreciate them in a multi-sensory way.

But then — on my way back home I passed by a house with an extravagant poppy display. Oh my, but it was hard to think that my sensing of them was cool. They were swaying in the breeze, and laying themselves down as an offering on the sidewalk. Their colors were warm…. no, hot!

Nearby, dozens of carpenter bees were making a racket in their wild excitement over the largest patch of cerinthe I’ve ever seen, and bright orange California poppies mixed in with the giant red and pink and purple ones. Truly, I experienced the longing that C.S. Lewis describes:

“We do not want merely to see beauty… We want something else which can hardly be put into words – to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.”

After living in this neighborhood for more than 30 years, and responding to an incredible amount of beauty that presents itself to me day after day, season by season, concentrated in this tiny part of the world, I think by now I must have received at least a smidgen of it into myself.

At the corner of my cracked driveway, there my own dear flowers greeted me: the Mexican Evening Primroses, and the California poppies that have only recently added themselves to that display. So I snapped one more picture to detach from the whole landscape and atmosphere to put here flat on the screen. I’m glad you all have enough right brain function to appreciate them such as they are; along with them, I send you my love.

18 thoughts on “Red poppies keep the coolness relative.

  1. Beautiful pictures all. I once worked for a headmaster who would leave pencilled notes in our pigeonholes: See me when you can; We need to talk; I am free at 2 p.m.; or Thank you for the extra work you have done … all of which ended up with a discussion in his office about either good or bad things. He loathed being e-mailed by teachers, saying that face-to-face conversations were always more productive. Of course this was long before Covid!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear Gretchen, what a beautiful post in thoughts & photos. I loved the quote by C.S. Lewis. I look forward to getting out into the beauty of my own gardens. Thank you for your inspiration! Love, hugs & prayers, FlowerLady

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Those poppies are fabulous. And yes, they are hot, hot, hot — and wonderful. I loved the thought behind this post and I’m glad you didn’t forsake your photo shoots on this day. I’ve thought about this subject often — how much I see through a lens versus otherwise, and I decided, rather a long time ago, that it doesn’t matter how much or how many photos one takes (or deletes!) but stopping to enjoy and savor the experience that inspires one to take them. For me, it’s not enough to snap a photo (or 20) of Harry or the ducklings. That shoot requires stopping to really watch them, watch the play or the action, feel the energy around the ditch. The same goes for the garden. I think you have mastered that.

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  4. Lovely post! I agree with all of it! What book was that C.S. Lewis quote from? This morning 2 geese and their 7 little goslings were on our lawn near the river. Of course, the adult geese were on high alert and I couldn’t get as close as I would have liked. I admired from a distance. I took a photo to share with my mom, but it did not do justice to what I saw. Real life trumps the camera shot!

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    1. Neta, I just searched through pages of C.S. Lewis quotes on Goodreads and finally found the source of that quote! It is from The Weight of Glory. Thanks for the prompt! I do like to know these things myself, but too often don’t take the time.

      I also very much appreciate your telling the little story about the geese. You demonstrate how to share our experiences without needing pictures. If I would take the time (there is that phrase again) and trouble to write more of the whole story of beautiful things and events — even very short stories like yours — it might sometimes be a fuller description than several pictures could convey. “A picture is worth a thousand words”? I’m not so sure….


  5. I always laugh at mentions of digital detoxing: not because it’s a bad thing, but because the need for it is so far removed from my life. I just looked at my phone. It contains four photos: a picture of a flowering bush a friend sent me, two photos of damage to my car used for insurance purposes, and one photo of a female mallard who didn’t quite understand the concept of ‘nest’ and laid an egg under a deck chair on the dock next to where I was working. I do love my flower/insect identification app, but that’s as much a tool as my orbital sander.

    I have to disagree somewhat about the ability of images to convey rich realities. Properly married with words, they can convey experiences to an interesting degree. I think especially of the people who comment on many of my blog entries, saying, “I felt as though I were right there with you.” Words can create worlds, but images can help to give it flesh.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Without a doubt I’m one of the people who has written such comments. The feelings your photos evoke in me I’m pretty sure are a result of the clarity of the images, combined with my own experiences that enable my imagination to enliven them. The vicarious enjoyment comes from what I know of you as a person, conveyed through your writing; I have a picture of you in my mind, driving to a site, loving the land, framing your photos… and then “properly marrying them with words.” That last part is essential!

      If when I finish my current projects I make the time to get to know my non-phone camera better, I will be able to liberate photography from the phone. In the meantime, I’m cheered to hear of your longstanding freedom, and glad for the teamwork of you with your camera.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think one of the differences between ‘real’ camera photographers and phone camera users (speaking very generally, of course) is intention. I see so many people who simply click away on nature walks without taking even a minute to look closely at what surrounds them, or to frame their subject in a pleasing way. My camera slows me down, in a way the phone couldn’t.

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  6. Such heart in this post! I shared in its glorying – thank you! And remembered my recent encounters with the roses and their fragrant offerings! On McGilchrist, I wonder if you are aware of and/or following the conversations underway with the publishers of his latest book ‘The Matter with Things’, Perspectiva? “Attention as a Moral Act” the series is called and is available on YouTube. I think you’d enjoy them. Love to you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Kate, for the tip! I hadn’t seen that series yet, but I have 2-3 interviews with McGilchrist done by different people, on my to-watch list. I’ll just add a few more 🙂 (I’ve pulled them up on YouTube just now…)


    2. Oh, and have you read either or both of those books by McGilchrist? I have listened to The Master and His Emissary while doing dishes… but I really don’t have that many dishes to do. And no other activity seems to leave me enough mental power to listen to such thought-provoking material.


  7. Oh my, this is so very rich, both in the thoughts surrounding how we relate to the beautiful and of course the photos. I love capturing the beauty that surrounds with my camera. It brings me much joy. I wonder if it’s a part of that process that Lewis stated so well..the desire to partake of and be united with the beauty. Thank you for sharing what you’re learning and for letting us accompany you on your strolls in the neighborhood!

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    1. Silvana, I think you are right, that to some degree we are trying to prolong the experience we have of being in the presence of the beautiful. When we go back and see only the visual, our minds can fill in more aspects of the moment we had in the past. But I wish I had learned to draw, and had learned the habit of long walks in nature, sketchpad in hand. It seems like the effort to draw the beautiful tree or scene would be more deeply satisfying. (Even that only conveys the visual!) But that’s kind of theoretical to me. When Lewis talks about sensucht generally, it’s as a longing that leads us ultimately to Heaven, because the longing is for our full redemption, which won’t be accomplished here. Probably our desire to be united with the beautiful is of the same quality.

      Thank you for prompting me to think more about this.


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