Communion with the small: An essay by Theric Jepson

Theric Jepson is best known in Mormon blogging for his Motley Vision post on Mormon comics. That and his other Motley Vision work are listed at http://www.motleyvision.org/about-theric-jepson/ along with essays and short stories hosted at other sites. He is the editor of that Fob Bible thing that all the cool kids are talking about. His online presence is best summed up by listing thmazing.com, thmazing.blogspot.com and twitter.com/thmazing. His poemMorning Walk, Spring 2009” was published here in March; it and this essay together sum up Theric’s daily natural philosophy: We are part of nature and nature is part of God and both nature and God should be part of our everyday lives. Even living as he does now in California’s East Bay, Theric will pause to watch a squirrel or listen to a bird. He is particularly curious as to why deer are commonly seen three blocks from his house yet never in his neighborhood, and how in the world so many raccoons can fit into a single sewer drain.

 

Why do we cityfolk so often imagine it necessary to leave the paved world to enjoy the natural world? I can remember one Sunday at Brigham Young University, walking from campus back to my apartment along the south border of a parking lot, just looking at the bushes. Some still had leaves, others were bare. Some had berries. One of the berried demanded my attention: each of this bush’s berries had three leaves growing in to and out of the berry. Perhaps they had once been petals from the flower? I don’t know, but it was new and fascinating and question-generating.

A neighboring bush was already naked of leaves in preparation for the coming winter, but the younger branches were covered in a soft, pleasant fuzz. The closer to the main trunk, the more likely a branch was to be bare, but those further afield had their own fur coats. Was this for winter protection? Was the fuzz there year round?

I ran my fingers along the fur-covered stems; they reminded me of velvet-covered antlers, though each individual hair was longer. Touching them, however, covered my fingers in a sickly, gray grime. I was sobered, forced to witness the contamination of the air, and as I tried to wipe clean my fingers, I was struck by the filth that I must be breathing, that I and the bush must be enveloped in.

Really, it should not be necessary to travel to a National Park to experience the joys of nature. All we need to do is experience it at the micro-level. In her essay, “The Sense of Wonder,” Rachel Carson said, “we can escape the limitations of the human size scale.” I think about this. The summer before I met those bushes, I met the Grand Canyon. And although I had seen hundreds, perhaps thousands, of photographs of the Canyon in my life, when I first saw it with my own eyes I couldn’t breathe. I’m lucky I didn’t fall in, wide-eyed, too enraptured to notice my doom. The only natural vista I can imagine that could be more powerful in terms of scale would be seeing the Earth from space.

But there’s another scale of beauty equally intense. Beauty on a small scale. Remember the mayfly? Small, transparent and fragile. Yet infinitely complex. Purple and green at the same time. The endlessly intertwining veins in its wings a lesson in simple beauty—the complexity of the universe captured in microcosm—in a flitting life that lasts one day. And what of the mayfly’s shimmering eyes? Or its cotton-candy legs? This is the natural beauty of the small that is always with us.

Another time at BYU as I was walking from my car to my apartment, I spotted a small bit of cotton floating through the air. I caught it and examined it, but it wasn’t a piece of cotton at all: it was a tiny gnat-like creature dressed to the nines in its own mink coat. The fine, white fibers surrounding its body were a lesson in gentility, and I stopped, frozen on asphalt, to gaze upon this tiny, exquisite creature. It had a black body like any gnat’s I had ever seen, but the addition of its fine white coat made it a thing of rare grace.

Beauty is all-around and ever-present. And though I enjoy going somewhere lonesome—just me and the natural world—Nature does not abandoned its lovers when they reenter their lands of concrete and steel. The world is a beautiful place, and even when we are far from the Grand Canyon, the simple beauties of a mayfly, a becoated gnat, or the whorls of our own fingertips are always available to those who look, who take the time to see.

5 thoughts on “Communion with the small: An essay by Theric Jepson”

  1. Two points:
    I had a similar reaction at the Grand Canyon. It was the first time I really realized how small I was. That’s stayed with me for a very long time.
    Among so much nature around me, I especially love fractals because of the combination of the grand, larger form and the beauty of the smaller detail. I like seeing those complementary patterns all around me.

  2. .

    I was thinking about fractals earlier today in the pattern of a strange plant that many people plant in their yards near my house, its puffy leaves spinning into infinity.

  3. I like this from your blurb:

    We are part of nature and nature is part of God and both nature and God should be part of our everyday lives.

    My sediments exactly.

    Also, I like that you see the natural minutia of cities–I have experienced that pleasant (and sometimes unpleasant) zap of natural event (not that cities are unnatural in and of themselves–if, as you say, we’re part of nature, etc., then cities, by virtue of being the work of our natural hands are natural as well) in concrete environments. One vivid memory–walking home from BYU and hearing the terror-filled chirps of sparrows in a hedge, then witnessing a kestrel fly out of it, clutching a sparrow in its talons. The sparrow’s head hung down, its beak parted.

    Back in the day, the largest community of garter snakes I’ve ever seen used to emerge in spring on the south-facing bank of the trail running along the irrigation canal, just above the botany pond. Coils of them, some wound up together. The woods along that trail also had squirrels. And of course, the quail. Those were just the obvious things.

    I always appreciated that BYU allowed such a trimming of life to fringe the campus. I took that trail as often as I could. Beside the wildlife, it was where I was most likely to run into Hugh Nibley.

    But! I have to say that for some of us who grew up immersed in nature, neck deep in turtles, snakes, hickory trees, white oaks, sassafrass, mushrooms, frogs, blue jays, Japanese beetles, earthworms, poison ivy, flying squirrels, pine needles, crawfish towers, etc., being removed for too long from those depths to the heavily developed can cause pain and illness. I know whereof I speak.

    And I would love to see cities designed and developed that took into account the needs of other species, allowing habitation for a greater range of biodiversity. Pale Male, the redtail hawk that established a dynasty of city-dwelling redtail hawks living in New York City, the peregrine falcons that (used to) nest on a building in SLC, raccoons in the sewer drains, barn owls living in the bell towers of old schools, all that little stuff Theric mentions–just bare scratchings of what’s possible. This desire of mine arises not only out of concern for maintaining the spectrum of animalia–the “not us” of the world–but out of concern over the emotional diversity contact with animals gives rise to in humans.

    It’s all about relation.

    [Link in “Pale Male”–quite a story there.]

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