Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as the saying goes, its origin dating back to ancient Greece, long before the birth of Christ. Some credit the Greek philosopher and writer Plato (429-347 BC) with the earliest written rendition of this thought on the nature of beauty and what we mean by it, while Margaret Hungerford is widely credited with the modern version, found in one of her books in 1879. One thing is certain; the perception and interpretation of “beauty” is subjective. Outdoor with Rosie Mitchell
How do we develop our definition and appreciation of what is “beautiful”? So much depends on our early life, the opportunities and exposure we receive as children to pause for a moment and learn to appreciate those things perceived as beautiful by the adults around us.
If I had grown up in a family who tilled fields and grew our own food and I helped mind cattle and fetch water from the river, in Chinamhora communal lands, would I or my family have concerned ourselves with admiring the grandeur of the massive granite mountains, the majestic mountain acacia trees, the abundant wildlife, the beautiful rock formations and the quality of the light upon these at sunset?
It would depend on my particular family and their attitudes and priorities.
As it is, I didn’t grown up in Chinamhora, I grew up in Bulawayo, in Chester, and in Harare, in a family with a particular passion for appreciating and enjoying natural beauty, entirely for its own sake.
Is it a simple matter of income level, whether we appreciate the lovely view, or are more concerned with survival, or is it much more complex than this? I believe it is. Can we impart new perceptions of beauty, different values, in others, long after they are grown?
I puzzle over this more and more these days, and am ever more grateful to have grown up under the influences of people with acute powers of observation of the natural world, taking daily pleasure in the smallest of things observed in nature, whether in one’s own yard or further afield, a deeply felt appreciation of natural beauty and wonder that spans back through many generations.
Helping children develop a lifelong appreciation of nature’s beauty, magnificence, power and ability, both to fascinate and surprise us, is one of the greatest gifts one can give, and costs nothing at all. It lasts a lifetime and they will pass this down to their own children in time.
Concerns overshadow appreciation
Day-to-day concerns around simple survival and having enough food and water might have overshadowed an appreciation of the immediate natural surroundings for their own sake — or not — as the case may be. So much depends on parental and familial influences and values when we are young.
Get out there and enjoy nature’s free gifts
Nature’s beauty and fascination is everywhere around us, in city and rural areas, high and low-density suburbs, national parks and communal lands, and as I regularly point out, you need neither wealth, nor even to travel, to enjoy and appreciate these free gifts — they are right on the doorstep or close to it, you just need to get out there and enjoy!
Why is it, then, that there are wealthy people in our cities who are, right now, bent on destroying the last remaining areas of natural beauty that remain, dotted about in our various suburbs for us to enjoy without even catching a kombi or getting in a car? Such people are proof that an appreciation of nature, valuing its beauty, seeing the absolute necessity to make it possible for city dwellers to enjoy natural, unspoilt environments regardless of their urban circumstances, is not so much to do with income level, and has far more to do with the influences of those who moulded them when young.
It seems clear that, clearly driven by financial gain, they did not enjoy the benefit of influential adults who appreciated the beauty of their natural surroundings enough to share that appreciation with them, nor to instil in them a sense of wonder for natural phenomena, flora and fauna.
Even more worryingly, how is it that they still do not get that these city greenbelts are also wetlands, which is why they were not built upon in the first place, and that doing so will dry up what remains of our water supply? That they are protected for this very reason, and that their abuse over several decades via illegal agriculture, dumping and construction will spell the death knell of our cities?
In spite of legislation, objections, protests, lobbies and outcries, currently under threat of development are the Meyrick Park Vlei, which is an extension of the protected Monavale Vlei, the Highlands/Gunhill Vlei and the Borrowdale Vlei. These and other vlei areas like them are Wetlands and as such should never be developed or used for agriculture. For other vleis, already destroyed by illegal construction and other human activities, it’s too late.
There are two reasons we city dwellers should care. Yes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Those who love to explore the natural world, whether in their own backyard, in the vlei down the road, or further afield, for its own sake, because they learned as children to perceive and appreciate such places and the fauna and flora inhabiting them as beautiful, would surely hate to lose the last green belts we have?
But if, sadly, that means nothing to you, contemplate the moment, not far off unless these activities are stopped, when there’s no water to drink, because all the vleis feeding our city water supply are now completely dry. Are we, all of us, just going to stand there, watch the bulldozers, and do nothing? Because they are already there — it’s almost too late, already!