Gaia II – Truth and Beauty

James Lovelock ends ‘Gaia‘ with a rather profound summary: 

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them 

Beauty is truth, truth beauty – that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

I googled for the origins, and should have guessed the first two paragraphs – they are from the King James Bible; Ecclesiastes 3. 

But the third line is interesting too. If indeed ‘beauty’ is the lion’s share of ‘all ye know’ and ‘need to know’ on earth, and ‘truth’ the rest; does this give a simple recipe for the ‘good life’? 

Perhaps not quite that simple. The meaning of this line from Keat’s ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn‘ has been heavily debated down the years.

Still – this week I found from myself looking at nature more intently as a result of Lovelock and Keats. But Lovelock’s own ‘last word’ set me thinking too…

There can be no prescription, no set of rules, for living within Gaia. For each of our different actions there are only consequences.

This connected my with my developing ‘inner Buddhist’. Life takes is course; many thing happened before us and many more will happen after. 

This morning, I scanned my instagram photos from the last few years, to look at what I take photos of… 

Far from exhaustive; but a funny old selection of the beauty of nature, mankind’s profound and profane imprint on it – and our ongoing search for truth…

Truth and beauty might not be such bad guides. 

Ecclesiastes – King James Version 

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.


Although the writing is not to my taste, the photos in National Geographic Magazine make it worth the subscription for me. A few months ago there was a picture of chimpanzees looking through a wire mesh fence in silent mourning as a the body of much a loved female chimp was carried away in a wheelbarrow. The emotion was obvious. The landscapes can be amazing too. It’s easy to think you’ve seen the world if you’ve travelled a bit. National Geographic reminds me I ain’t seen nothing.

Over the summer I read a beautifully illustrated article on Bowerbirds. Male Bowerbirds spend inordinate amounts of time building extraordinary ‘bowers’ which are at times fanciful and often huge confections to show off their prowess to lady Bowerbirds. A veritable nest builder’s ‘peacock’s tail’, often functionally useless, dangerous and wasteful to build they are the Victorian follies of the avian world.

Some are castles of kitsch, some monuments to consumerism and globalisation – constructed entirely of colourful bits of drinks cans and other rubbish. I saw one with two rows of tall twigs and a pathway of identically coloured purplish bits of slate in between which looked so minimalist it could have graced a home design magazine. It seemed impossible that a bird made it, but the male looking back coquettishly over his shoulder at the far end demonstrated it was his pride and joy.

I think we are all Bowerbirds to some degree. Some are lucky enough to be born with exceptional beauty – their own peacock’s tail, but I fear they are often haunted for the rest of their lives by the physical decline and loss that turns the beauty of youth into the inevitable walnut of old age.

We can all build a bower for ourselves though. And its beauty can live all your life – and sometimes beyond. A work of art, a book, creating a beautiful home, your children, different people have different bowers within them.

Taking 15 minutes to think, reflect and write every day may well be my route to quietly building a slate strewn, twig fronded pride and joy for just for me.