TO make our woodshed look less stark, our artist son Paul made us a 4-by-6 ft. bas-relief of a rhino. Seen in silhouette, peacefully smiling, his nose points down the hill of a little-used country road. Still, we wondered about those passing by. He would be at eye level three feet away. We hoped he wouldn't give people a start, that instead they would return his smile.
The town dump is about a mile away in the other direction, on a much more traveled road, and someone had beautified that as well. Past the smoldering piles of trash, there was a garden: vines and flowers smothering the cans and bottles; gigantic squash and pumpkin, their orange trumpets shouting "Glory!" above the torn mattresses and roof shingles.
There were summer squash and tomatoes, zucchinis and cucumbers. Where had all this abundance come from, I wondered? What buoyant soul had scattered these seeds? It was the dump attendant, it turned out. Why not? he had thought. Let's see if it works out.
Uglifying the beautiful is far more common. The billboards that used to stain the roadside landscapes are rising again in the form of 15-foot-high fences - concrete or treated wood. Are they noise barriers for the rows of houses just on the other side? Perhaps. But they are mini-Berlin Walls nevertheless and often drip with graffiti. What if all roads had them? How dreadful to drive through a maze of topless tunnels.
And what about graffiti itself - the urge to desecrate? Climb to the top of a mountain only to have the view destroyed by "Doug loves Louella" in fluorescent spraypaint. Turn it around. Make the graffiti beautiful, as in certain sections of Manhattan, and that's something else. And what about the custom of putting the names of high school basketball players on individual telephone poles? The home team spread out for a mile or so along the road. The old Burma Shave signs come to roost again.
In the same spirit as our dump attendant, Lady Bird Johnson introduced the practice of scattering wildflower seeds on highway median strips. Often the least expensive ideas are the best. All that grass to be mowed. All those expensive decorative shrubs and trees to be planted. Why not invest in blueberry bushes and juniper? Let nature take over. Cranberries in the hollows where the ground is wet. Mount St. Helens after the volcano was a tumble-down mess of Douglas fir and giant alder pick-up-sticks; but instead of cleaning it all up, someone, wisely, decided to leave it that way. Now, the new growth is covering it over, and in time, the trees will have become humus.
Nature always beautifies, though sometimes at man's expense. Still, from its point of view, so-called natural disasters are simply extensions of territory. And the dunes piled up by the sands of desertification are just as beautiful as the ones along the beach. Hurricanes clear the air. Volcanic ash doubles the apple yield. Forest fires protect the trees.
Man rarely adds to the beauty of his environment, and his acts of destruction can be all but devastating to nature's balance. But he alone of all the creatures on earth has the capacity to change. He can work in harmony with nature. He can sow good seed. He can brighten up the dullness. He can sing "Hosanna in the highest!" His aim in life can be to shout, and shout again, "Hallelujah!"