…the sight of any beauty reminds me that I am a savage. Yes… a savage, with clumsy senses, and blind to a thousand things I should be able to see, deaf to a thousand things I should be able to hear. Just look at that fire. It is an example of energy, in a certain stage of development. The form of the energy is altering, but the elements are the same. The elements will be exactly the same when those bright logs are turned into dull grey ashes, and when the flames are dissipated into gas. Yet I shall come along, and shall see the ashes, and I shan’t get any sense of beauty, though all around me, in the universe, are the elements which are disporting themselves so prettily in this moment. That’s what I mean. It is all here, yet I can’t see it. As though you had taken a word and jumbled up the letters and made it meaningless. We ought to be able to sort out the letters again and read the message without having to have them arranged for us as though we were children…
However, I suppose that if we were given a gift like that, we should live in such a state of ecstasy that our idiotic bodies would not stand the strain…
The Professor, in The Gift of a Garden, or Some Flowers Remembered, by Beverley Nichols
Last week my husband and I got to drive the Apache Trail, near Phoenix, Arizona. We were told it had snowed just a week before, and the desert flowers were in full bloom. For flatlanders like us, it was a visual treat to see the sun shining through the plants above us on the slopes. The blend of forms and tints flowed and swirled and varied every few miles, and the ephemeral beauty made me remember this passage. “It is all here, yet I can’t see it.” “Fast enough,” I would add. There is so much more to learn about those plants and their environment that I will never be able to grasp.
Beverley Nichols was a British author who wrote over 60 books and plays. In the 1930s, he wrote a series of books that told how he restored some houses and gardens. His tone is gently humorous, but his joy at the wonders of changing seasons and growing things comes through. I find those books restful and soothing, and I have read them several times.
Excerpts from three of the books were republished in 1971, in a collection called The Gift of a Garden, or Some Flowers Remembered. In the foreword, Nichols says that the character of the Professor “was based on an eccentric genius called Professor A. M. Low, who was much in the public eye before the war.” There is a lot about Archibald Montgomery Low on the internet, and his interests and writing were wide-ranging, although he was not actually a professor. This speech may be completely fictional, but its sentiments express my thoughts at seeing these beautiful desert flowers.