Living in Beauty: Lessons from the Lorax

I live in a beautiful part of the country.  Oregon is the fabled land of countless streams, rivers, waterways, mountains, hiking trails, wildflowers, coastal landscapes, wine country vines, verdant valleys, farmers’ fields, and snow capped ski slopes.  And that includes only the areas I have had the joy of visiting.

Most of my life I have lived in places of natural beauty, by careful choice.  I grew up in Louisiana where bayous and waterways were the fertile ground of my childhood, and I truly think of myself as being birthed from the deep, rich earth of the Mississippi delta, nurtured by oak and pine trees.  Some of my strongest childhood memories involve trees, including magnolias with their budding flowers that I watched grow into white blossoms and – a favorite – mighty oaks with moss hanging down in great sweeps of glory.  Touching it felt like connecting with something magical, like the ancient spirits of the land or some remnants of my ancestors’ lives, growing before me as it grew for them on trees that had been around for generations.

I’ve had the great privilege to live in Rome, Italy; in the Sacramento valley of California; in the San Francisco Bay Area; and on the Hawaiian islands, which are home to so much beauty and magic that it is impossible to describe in a short piece of writing.

And now, Oregon.  For 12 years, I have lived here.  And I never stop looking around in wonder at the beauty surrounding me, holding my life and the lives of my family members. I look out my window and see beautiful trees and a sky that changes with each of the four seasons – true seasons. I drive down the street and look out on mountains that surround our valley, sometimes covered in snow, sometimes brilliant green with the light bouncing off the hills, sometime shrouded in mist or sheets of rain moving across the horizon.

No matter what is happening, it always stops me, brings me home to myself, my breath, to gratitude.  No matter what is happening, when I can look at natural beauty, everything seems to be alright in the world.

And when I am out in it, walking or biking, swimming in rivers or lakes, lying under the stars listening to an outdoor concert on a still summer night, I can feel almost perfect peacefulness. My body feels at home on this earth and I am immensely grateful for each moment, taking everything in like a child, connected and aware of myself as part of a wondrously created universe.

Which brings me to my current wondering, something that has always puzzled me but which has become even more pertinent to me lately: how in the great wide world could we as a human species consider doing anything that destroys this beauty?

Before I go any farther into what might sound like tree-hugging condescension and naive platitudes, I want to say this: I mean this.  This question has plagued me since I was a child.  I simply don’t understand it.  I do understand that in order to have many of the lovely things we enjoy in the modern world – cell phones and electricity and bags to carry things in and pretty things for our homes – we need to use parts of the natural world, transform them into other things, and be able to transport them from place to place.  And we need to do it in a way that keeps the costs affordable.  I get that. And I enjoy many of the things we create.

But can’t we find a way to do it and not destroy the beautiful world we live in? We are pretty smart.  I believe that. If we can figure out how to take a thought in our minds, speak it into a small piece of metal and plastic that we hold in our hands, and have those words heard by someone across the world in real time, and if we choose even include a real-time image of ourselves by pressing a button, can’t we figure out how to keep our amazing natural world clean and beautiful?

I look up and around, amazed at what I see, aware that not everyone lives with such natural grandeur around them. I tell myself that if everyone did, surely we would not consider policies or activities that sully or destroy this.  Beyond the absolute hubris of thinking we have the right to do that (we truly are only visitors on this planet and it is our responsibility to leave it for those who come after us – we all know that), I believe we certainly wouldn’t want to destroy such beauty, such natural wonder.

What has happened to me from living in the midst of such stunning beauty for so long is that I feel an utter responsibility to protect it, to yell out to anyone who may not see it or live beneath and within it each day that we have to take care of it. A responsibility comes with living here. An inside transformation from simply enjoying it to understanding that not everyone experiences it the same way and that those of us who do have to do what we can to protect it.  Surely everyone believes this?  Surely we all want this beauty to go on forever?

It is March, the month to honor Dr. Seuss, so I will end with a quote from one of his masterpieces, “The Lorax”.  The Lorax was a creature who became a voice for nature, after a long journey of discovery, living in a barren land where natural beauty was only a memory in a world filled with human-made “things”. And I will leave it right here, as a statement to myself, to remember that I may need to be a Lorax whether I want to or not.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

I leave it to you to decide it you want to join me.  If you, too, might have a bit of a Lorax inside. If you’re not sure if you do, just go outside and look around. For now, at least, the beauty is still around.

I hope you can see what I see.