Thursday, April 5, 2012


Who would think that the parking lot of Target would occasion a moment of beauty?

The other day I was walking across the aforementioned lot, passing through a driving lane between rows of parked cars, when I noticed small chips of something rolling along the ground, pushed from behind by the wind. At first I thought they were pieces of stryofoam (what else could be so lightweight?) which was depressing – more litter – but as I approached my car, I kept watching, and pretty soon realized they weren’t humanmade after all. They were flower petals, blown over to the parking lot from the blooming trees across the street. 
I nearly climbed into my car and drove away. But I stopped, and kept watching.
The petals were shaped like little discs, and when the wind blew – it was a gusty day – it would lift them up and set them rolling. They would roll in phalanxes – each little petal racing the others across the lot, brilliantly lit by the morning sun. They reminded me of kids let loose on a field – some would get ahead, then drop back, and others would surge. Then the wind would slow, the gust would cease, and the petals would all, instantly, drop flat on the ground, motionless. Another gust would arrive, and they’d all, as one, lift up on edge, light up with sunshine, and start to roll again.
Sometimes they blew north, toward me; sometimes they’d veer east, into the row of cars on the other side of the lane. It was early, so the lot was mostly empty – another aspect of that encounter that reminded me it was a gift of a moment: most of the time, the lot would’ve been too full for the petals to cut such wide swaths across the smooth asphalt.
I wished for a videocamera. I thought: Someone should be filming this. But no one was. Perhaps no one ever will film tree blossom petals rolling in mad dashes across a parking lot. But there I was, and I had stopped – I felt relieved that someone was witnessing that fantastic spectacle. 
A morning or two later, as I was walking my usual route through the park, I topped a set of stairs and saw a woman a few yards beyond me, stopped still in the middle of the path. She was staring into the grove of young trees that line its edge – the redbud trees were in bloom, spraying purple across the new green. When I walk, I often see people standing still while talking on phones, or sitting still while reading or eating, but rarely pausing just to drink in a moment. Again, I felt relief:  those trees deserved the attention.
Not too long ago, I read an artist refer to him/herself as “one of those few people who notice the small beauties of life,” or something along those lines. It struck me as odd, because I tend to think that most people notice small beauties, to greater and lesser degrees. Or maybe that artist was right: he is one of only a few. Either way: that, I think, is what painting is: stopping to notice.  Willing ourselves to see with wonder. We might glimpse moments potent with beauty as we pass by, but most of the time we turn our heads and get back to business. When we create artiistically, we stop. 
Maybe we’re trying to stop time – to hold on to a fantastic sight or color or effect of light. Maybe we hope to capture a moment to share it with others. Maybe we want to experience it as deeply as possible. Or maybe we just want to sing its praise before it ends.