Beautiful Thought – Tatanka Beat

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Thunder
Thunder
Little Brother
Do you hear them
Drumming deeply
They are coming
Little Brother
To reclaim
Their holy land
Thunder
Thunder
Little Brother
Ancient herds
Are drumming deeply
And your gentle
Feathered Brother
Leads them onward
Take my hand
You can follow
Little Brother
Herd and tribe
Are one again
Thunder
Thunder
Little Brother
Heart of beast
And soul of man

Beautiful Trees – The Gingko

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Buddhist monks in the mountains of south-east China have long cultivated gingko trees in the courtyards of their monasteries. Some trees planted at temples are believed to be over 1,500 years old. The gingko trees were valued for their medicinal uses, edible seeds, and perhaps their beauty.  In about 800 AD, the monks brought the gingko with them to Japan where many years later the tree was first seen by a European, the German botanist Engelbert Kaempfer.

Also known as maidenhair tree, the Gingko is the oldest species of tree on earth today; it’s been around since the days of the dinosaur. The Gingko is immune to the effects of most diseases and parasites

For thousands of years the Chinese have used ginkgo leaves to treat disorders associated with aging. Today numerous scientific studies appear to have shown that Ginkgo does indeed help to slow memory loss in those suffering from Alzheimer’s, multi-infarct dementia (MID), and age-associated memory impairment (AAMI). Some studies suggest that ginkgo may even help reverse the effects of these illnesses to some extent.

Beautiful Phenomena – the Black Pearl of Great Price

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For thousands of years, most seawater pearls were retrieved by divers working in the Indian Ocean  in areas like the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, and in the Gulf of Mannar. Starting in the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD), the Chinese hunted extensively for seawater pearls in the South China Sea. When Spanish conquistadors arrived in the Americas, they discovered that around the islands of Cubagua and Margarita, some 200 km north of the Venezuelan coast, was an extensive pearl bed.

One discovered and named pearl, La Peregrina, was offered to the Spanish queen.   According to Garcilasso de la Vega, who says that he saw La Peregrina at Seville in 1507,  it was found at Panama in 1560 by a black slve who was rewarded with his liberty, and his owner with the office of alcalde of Panama.

Black pearls, frequently referred to as Black Tahitian Pearls, are highly valued because of their rarity; the culturing process for them dictates a smaller volume output and can never be mass produced. This is due to bad health and/or non-survival of the process, rejection of the nucleus and their sensitivity to changing climatic and ocean conditions. Before the days of cultured pearls, black pearls were rare and highly valued for the simple reason that white pearl oysters rarely produced naturally black pearls, and black pearl oysters rarely produced any natural pearls at all.

In a Christian New Testament parable, Jesus compared the Kingdom of Heaven to a  “pearl of great price”  in Matthew 13: 45-46. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.”

The language of symbolism was in common use around the time of Jesus Christ; most people were familiar with the symbolic meanings. The circle is a symbol of God because it has no beginning and no end. The circle or pearl was considered to represent Love and Knowledge.  The combination of equal amounts of Love and Knowledge is a symbol of Wisdom; the 2 circles intertwined – owl eyes – is symbolic of Wisdom. Some other pearls are Truth, and Faith.  Pearls are also important in Hebrew, Islamic and Hindu scriptures – the  Ayurveda contains references to pearl powder as a stimulant of digestion and to treat mental ailments.

Beautiful Painting – The Umbrellas by Renoir

Umbrellas

Renoir’s intriguing painting ‘Umbrellas’ , painted about about 1881-6, shows a bustling Paris street in the rain.
The composition of the painting does not focus on the centre of the picture which is a tangle of hands. It even cuts off figures at either edge like a photographic snapshot. This kind of unconventional arrangement was something that several of the Impressionists, including Renoir and Degas, enjoyed experimenting with. Although it looks naturalistically haphazard, the composition is actually carefully considered. Look at the pattern of angles and shapes made by the umbrellas.
The work is particularly intriguing in that it shows the artist at two separate points in his career, the second of which was a moment of crisis as he fundamentally reconsidered his painting style. Look at the difference between the way he has painted the woman on the left, and those on the right. During the early 1880s, he became increasingly disillusioned with the Impressionist technique. ‘I had come to the end of Impressionism, and I was reaching the conclusion that I didn’t know how either to paint or draw. In a word, I was at a dead end.’  He began to look back to more traditional art: the drawings of Ingres and the ‘purity and grandeur’ of classical art. Returning to the ‘Umbrellas’, he repainted the figure on the left in a crisper style, using a more muted palette.  Why did he leave the painting in this half and half state? Perhaps he simply lost interest in the work and moved on to new projects. Or perhaps he wanted to leave a before-and-after record of the struggle he had gone through.

beautiful places – Valetta, Malta, the city built by gentlemen for gentlemen

Courtesy of the Malta Tourism Authority

Image courtesy of the Malta Tourist Board

From megaliths to medieval dungeons and Calypso’s Cave and a countryside dotted with the oldest known human structures in the world, the Maltese Islands are positively mythic. The narrow meandering streets of their towns and villages are crowded with Renaissance cathedrals and Baroque palaces. The Islands have rightly been described as an open-air museum. But the capital city, Valleta, the smallest capital city in the EU, is both beautiful and intriguing.  The back streets on a desert-hot summer day are redolent of all the smells of the Mediterranean – both good and bad! But you are surrounded by some of the most beautiful buildings in Europe!

Valletta owes its existence to the Knights of St John, who planned the city as a refuge to care for injured soldiers and pilgrims during the Crusades in the 16th century. Until the arrival of the Knights, Mount Sceberras, on which Valletta stands, lying between two natural harbours, was an arid tongue of land.   Grand Master La Valette, the gallant hero of the Great Siege of 1565, soon realised that if the Order was to maintain its hold on Malta, it had to provide adequate defenses.  The Grand Master didn’t live to see its completion and he died in 1568. His successor, Pietro del Monte continued with the work at the same pace. By 1571, the Knights transferred their quarters from Vittoriosa (Birgu) to their new capital.

By the end of 16th century, Valletta had grown into a sizeable city. People from all parts of the island flocked to live within its safe fortifications. In the ensuing years, the austere mannerist style of architect Cassar’s structures, gave way to the more lavish palaces built be the rich knights  and churches with graceful facades and rich sculptural motifs.

Valletta’s street plan is unique and planned with its defense in mind. Based on a more or less uniform grid, some of the streets fall steeply as you get closer to the tip of the peninsula. The stairs in some of the streets do not conform to normal dimensions – they were constructed to allow knights in heavy armour to climb the steps. In the evening as the light falls it is easy to feel their presence still in the rich all embracing ambience of the city

Something Beautiful – the Lake Isle of Innisfree By W B Yeats

Inisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the mourning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

Innisfree is a small island at the eastern end of Lough Gill in County Sligo, Ireland.  Yeats spent part of nearly every year in Sligo while growing up. He often walked out from Sligo town to Lough Gill. First published in the collection The Rose in 1893, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” is an example of Yeat’s earlier lyric poems. The rhythm of the poem perfectly reflects the lapping of the water on the lake shore.  But the poem was written in London at a time when Ireland was in economic and political turmoil, and Yeats and his family were struggling financially. It is not surprising that the sound of a water fountain in a shop window on a bustling London street would take him back to the lapping water of Lough Gill  and a more gentle life.

Beautiful Trees – The Wonderful Willow

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There around 400 forms of Salix – deciduous trees and shrubs found on  moist soils in cold and temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere.  The leaves and bark of the willow tree have been mentioned in ancient texts from Assyria, Sumer and Egypt as a remedy for aches and fever, and the Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates wrote about its medicinal properties in the 5th century BC.  Native Americans across the American continent relied on it as a staple of their medical treatments. This is because Willows contain salicylic acid, the precursor to aspirin.  Willows all have abundant watery sap; bark which is heavily charged with the salicylic acid; soft, usually pliant, tough wood; slender branches; and large, fibrous roots.

Willow wood is also used in the manufacture of all kinds of things – boxes, brooms and particularly cricket bats!  But, it is also used for wands – Willow is one of the nine sacred trees mentioned in Wicca and witchcraft, with several magical uses. In the Wiccan Rede, it is described as growing by water and guiding the dead into the “Summerland”, a commonly used term in Wicca to refer to the afterlife.

Willow has many uses in agriculture and has an emerging role in ecology.  But its the Willow’s role in religion, in  folklore and in fiction, including Shakespeare, that is fascinating! It is one of the “Four Species” used in a ceremony on the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.    Hans Christian Andersen wrote a story called Under the Willow Tree (1853) in which children ask questions of a tree they call willow-father, paired with another entity called elder-mother. Green Willow is a Japanese ghost story in which a young samurai falls in love with a woman called Green Willow who has a close spiritual connection with a willow tree. And as we all know from Harry Potter, there is an old tree on the school grounds of Hogwarts called the “Whomping Willow”. It was planted in order to conceal a secret passageway that Professor Remus Lupin roamed through every full moon when he began his transformation into a werewolf.

Here’s to the wonderful Willow!

Beautiful Creatures – The White Peacock

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Some people believe that to see a white peacock will bring eternal happiness.  Woven into the myths and belief systems of cultures worldwide, the peacock presents itself through the sciences of alchemy and Roman astrology, the religions of Islam and Christianity, as well as in Egyptian, Chinese, and Indian cultures. Through the peacock’s 100 feathery eyes, the Chinese Goddess of Compassion, Kuan Yin, is able to watch over and guard all living things on Earth.

“Peacocks are symbols of beauty, reminding us to take pleasure in life.
The peacock is pure of heart.”
– Constantine

The White Peacock is a creature of the light.  Blue Peacocks get most of their color from light reflection rather than a dye.  The feathers have barbs, which in turn have rods.  It is these rods that controls how light reflects and produces the green, golden yellow, brown and bright blue.  White peacocks have a slightly different arrangement of the rods thus don’t develop the usual colors.

The White Peacock is also the first novel by D. H. Lawrence – one that he found himself compelled to write and rewrite, to pour himself into, in order to prove himself to himself. Begun when he was 21 and published in 1911, it shows many of Lawrence’s major themes.

Beautiful Paintings – Ophelia

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Ophelia by John Everett Millais, completed in 1852 and currently held in the Tate Britain in London.

The painting depicts the character from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, singing as she floats like a mermaid to her death by drowning. The scene is described in Act IV, Scene VII of the play in a speech by Queen Gertrude:

There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
There with fantastic garlands did she come,
Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples,
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
But our cold maids do dead men’s fingers call them:
There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke,
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide,
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up;
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes,
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indu’d
Unto that element; but long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull’d the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.

Ophelia’s pose—her open arms and upwards gaze—resembles traditional portrayals of saints or martyrs, but can also be interpreted as erotic.  The painting is known for its depiction of the detailed flora of the river and the riverbank, stressing the patterns of growth and decay in a natural ecosystem.  “Ophelia” was painted along the banks of the Hogsmill River in Surrey, near Tolworth, Greater London

But for me Ophelia represents the feelings of any young girl at the loss of first love and innocence – a little death from which we never recover.  Here is Ophelia mad for love and loss and incapable of the will even to save herself when she falls into the river – floating away to death and her own dream-like resolution!

Beautiful Places – St Dogmaels, Cardigan,West Wales

St Dogmaels

Cardigan, on the totally unspoiled West Wales coast, is the birthplace of the Welsh National Eisteddfod. With a population of 4,200, Aberteifi (its Welsh name meaning bridge over the Teifi) stands on the banks of the river Teifi where Ceredigion meets Pembrokeshire.  Just outside Cardigan is St Dogmaels, an ancient and tranquil village nestling peacefully around a ruined Abbey at the mouth of the river Teifi.  The monastery at St. Dogmaels was formally established as an abbey on September 10th 1120.  It suffered in the dissolution of the monasteries and is now a picturesque ruin – well worth a visit. Near-by is Poppit Sands,  one of west Wales’ premier blue flag beaches with acres of golden sands and where you can get lungfulls of bracing sea breezes. That is where the wonderful Pembrokeshire coastal path begins.  But it is the river at St Dogmaels that I love best – fascinating in all lights, tidal so constantly changing, but with a wonderful calmness.  Nowhere quite like it on a summer evening with clouds of swallows taking their nightly constitutional before settling to roost! Why don’t you take the lovely winding road across the mountains and visit the place for yourself.