11. The Principle of Beauty

That is the principle of beauty, to feel that there is something transforming and ennobling in us, which we can lay hold of if we wish, and that every time we see the great spirit at work and clasp it close to our feeble will, we soar a step higher and see all things with a wide and clearer vision.

— Benson, Joyous Gard, The Principle of Beauty


Recent sightings, along with a video recording of this creature flying through the swamps of Arkansas, confirm the survival of the Ivory-billed woodpecker, a bird that has long been considered extinct. Ranging anywhere from 19 to 21 inches long with a wingspan up to 3 ft, this bird is commonly known as the “Lord, God” bird. The bird is so striking that it’s been said when people see it they would exclaim, “Lord, God. What a woodpecker!”

Here is a report from the April 29, 2005 LA Times:

The current surge of interest began on Feb. 11, 2004, when amateur ornithologist Gene M. Sparling III of Hot Springs, Ark., saw what he thought was an ivory-billed woodpecker while kayaking in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge, halfway between Little Rock and Memphis, Tenn., and reported it to a bird-watchers’ website.

A week later, Tim W. Gallagher, editor of the Cornell lab of ornithology’s Living Bird magazine, and Bobby R. Harrison of Oakwood College in Huntsville, Ala., interviewed him and were so impressed by his account that they accompanied him on a second trip.

On Feb. 27, a large black-and-white woodpecker flew less than 70 feet in front of their canoe on the bayou. Both simultaneously cried out, “Ivory-bill!”

After they finished their notes and sketches of the bird, Gallagher said, “Bobby sat down on a log, put his face in his hands and began to sob, saying, ‘I saw an ivory-bill. I saw an ivory-bill.’

From the Depths

For some of us, it might seem sort of silly to lose your head over a bird. But think about it. Here’s a creature that for over 100 years was thought to have been extinct, and then, appearing as if from the ashes of history, is a sighting of this incredible thing flying overhead. It’s a birdwatcher’s dream, most probably, to find such a lost species. I mean it must change everything, releasing a storehouse of emotional energy trapped between the pages of the lost and forgotten.

Friends, we too have so much inside — so much that wants release, so much that would animate our days and make us dance to the music of newness and creativity. It is by the principle of beauty that we’re able to call up such energy, but it takes discipline to summon the power. Constantly, we must be calibrating our senses and thoughts in order to respond to the things that are truly meaningful.

It’s all too easy to pass over the pages in the “book of life” and lose sight of the most important things. And in today’s times especially, our constant tending to affairs has an unhealthy and numbing effect on our degree of interest and attention. For many of us, sighting such a winged creature as described above would mean very little. But there, beneath a calloused and worn exterior, is a spirit that would cry tears of joy to see something even as common as the morning sun.

Day 11 Guide

Think today about how you might elevate your senses and enjoy the various elements in nature that you so often overlook.

© 2005, Levi Hill

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