GULF COAST ZEIT­GEIST

A Nat­u­ral Ap­pre­ci­a­tion

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The “ha­bit­ual con­tem­pla­tion of great­ness”—in Al­fred North White­head’s rubric—must in­form and in­spire us. Great­ness—and ex­cel­lence—are best and most last­ing com­mu­ni­cated through the arts. — J. Carter Brown, Na­tional Gallery of Art direc­tor emer­i­tus

When I be­gan to type this col­umn, I clicked on an icon that looks like a pa­per file folder on my com­puter screen. When I want to delete some­thing, I click on a “trash can” and hear a sat­is­fy­ing sound like pa­per crunch­ing. When I vol­un­teer to take pho­tos of visi­tors on the beach with their smart­phones, they as­sure me that I’ll know the pic­ture “took” when I hear the click of the “shut­ter.”

These dig­i­tal de­signs are ex­am­ples of skeuo­morphs— from the Greek skeuos (tool, equip­ment) and morph (form, shape); they are imag­i­nary mim­ics of a phys­i­cal pre­de­ces­sor, de­signed by a hu­man be­ing to make it eas­ier for us to in­ter­face with com­put­ers. Use­ful, but not nec­es­sar­ily in­spir­ing.

Here on our Gulf Coast there is no need to im­i­tate na­ture’s de­signs; we are lured to set aside the skeuo­morphs and put our­selves in­side the real pic­ture. It can be­gin with tak­ing a hike (which Amer­i­cans de­fine as “walk­ing around in the woods”). I pre­fer the Ja­panese term shin­rin-yoku, which means “for­est bathing.” Singer/song­writer John Den­ver rhap­sodized that such a stroll in the wild would “fill up my senses.” Is­lan­ders of­ten wan­der down a trail, ride a bike, pull over and stop the car or just set up a lawn chair any­where out­side and al­low the sights, sounds, fra­grances and feel of our good na­ture to wash over us.

An­other way we re­spond to Mother Na­ture’s art­work is to use her sup­plies to make our own de­signs: Kids tempt us to join them in mak­ing sand­cas­tles and forts near the tide line; ro­man­tics charm beach­go­ers with their love let­ters in the sand; folks of all types chan­nel the artist within when they shape sand, dec­o­rate with shells, trim with sea­weed and land­scape with drift­wood to craft am­a­teur ex­hibits.

It’s also in­spir­ing to sam­ple the great works of pro­fes­sional artists and de­sign­ers. Most gal­leries wel­come ob­servers free of charge. One can com­bine a plea­sur­able walk with win­dow shop­ping at our many stores; you are in­vited to pop in to cool off or wait out a rain shower and en­joy the col­or­ful creations of many an artis­tic imag­i­na­tion—no com­puter skills or In­ter­net con­nec­tions nec­es­sary.

In 2017 it was es­ti­mated that the av­er­age Amer­i­can con­sumer spends more than $56,000 ev­ery year. While most of that money goes to­ward ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties, the fig­ure also in­cludes a whole lot of im­pulse buys. One of the ben­e­fits of our healthy, clean en­vi­ron­ment is that all these ways to share in the ex­cel­lence of na­ture’s art and de­sign are free. Imag­ine that. I re­call a car­toon from the strip en­ti­tled Fam­ily Cir­cus that de­picts the fam­ily of five watch­ing the sun go down, and one of the chil­dren says: “How much would it cost to see a sun­set if God de­cided to charge for it?”

Dr. Ran­dall H. Niehoff has been tak­ing up Mother Na­ture’s in­vi­ta­tion to en­joy her art and de­sign on Sani­bel since 1991.

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