On Beauty, In Sedona

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A visit to Sedona, Arizona raises the question: Can there be such a thing as too much beauty? The visual intensity of red rock and deep sky is so dramatic it makes me wonder: is it possible for those who live here to ever get sick of it?  Is there a saturation point? Does one gasp in awe at surrounding nature when it is the daily backdrop to dentist appointments and vet visits?

“I can’t get enough of it,” said a woman in local restaurant, who had moved here from Chicago.

As in Ojai, California, where I live, local residents are either from the area or drawn to here from all over the world by the jaw-dropping beauty of the surrounding rock mountains and the resulting light. As in Ojai, they consider themselves a privileged group, defined by a shared love of the place, and by opting to live with a heightened awareness of natural beauty as they go about their business. As in Ojai, the place has long attracted artists and spiritual seekers. It’s a hiker’s mecca and spa town known for its healing properties. Its pre-European inhabitants have considered it sacred for centuries.

“You must go and see the Chapel. It’s a real church, built right into the rock wall, ” a retired gentleman in the off-leash dog park advised me.

“Be careful at the Red Rock vortex,” said his buddy, another retiree. “If you get too close it will suck you in, and you’ll end up in China.”

I enjoyed this fellow’s stock joke for the tourist, a counterpoint to the earnest New Agers who wear batik cotton skirts with their cowboy boots – including some men.

Sedona advertises several vortices, magnetic poles where energy collects in a tangible way that allows one to tap into the spiritual dimension. I check it out at the one near the airport mesa. With so many others scrambling along the rock, it is difficult to connect with the energy. But I think I feel something, a kind of heaviness in the space I’m passing through. Or am I just open to suggestion? And does it even matter? There is no question that the beauty of Sedona can open something up in the soul that usually remains closed in urban environments.

Years ago, I realized that art museums and cinemas are necessary in large cities to replicate the beauty of nature for those live amid steel, glass and pavement, instead of mountains, rocks and forests. The farmer, seeing the sky meet the horizon each day, is closer to nature without re-creating it. We know that the designs and compositions found in nature are the ones most satisfying to humans in artistic works. Scientists have shown that geometric patterns in the Islamic art at the Al Hambra palace in Spain mirror those found in biology. Encounters with nature – as with great art – are transcendent. It is no accident that some of the earth’s most beautiful places have become colonies for artists and writers.

In Sedona, I wonder whether the static, monumental quality of the surrounding beauty is a different experience than, say, the fleeting beauty of autumn leaves in the Northeast. Or would the local resident see something different, alive and ever-changing, entirely new each day?

Recently, a friend of mine in Ojai was considering moving after nearly two decades in our “Shangrila” valley.

“How could you give this up?” I ask, referring to the visual beauty.

“I think maybe I’ve had enough of  ‘pretty’,” she answered.

For a moment, I longed for the urban energy and industrial esthetic of Berlin, Toronto or New York.

That feeling quickly passed. But the images I absorbed from Sedona, the exquisite natural beauty and its concurrent spiritual power, will remain, deeply imprinted.

GOON DOG’S VIEW:  Ah the fresh outdoors after a long drive, and the cool breeze and dry air.  My Ma won’t let me rustle around in the tall grass because there are so many rattle snakes around here – even though I’ve done the snake aversion training course. I generally keep my nose close to the ground and not up high to see the red rock sculptures – though they are majestic. As for the vortices…come on, really? I’m in touch, on an ongoing basis, with so many of those other dimensions that you humans can’t remember how to sense. Felt one energy, felt ‘em all. But truly, the highlight in Sedona was the Javelina, a hairy ‘skunk pig’ found in deserts. That’s right. A huge wild pig came foraging right up to the patio of the restaurant where we had dinner. No wonder they named the restaurant ‘Javelina’. I’ve never seen anything so exciting. I couldn’t relax for about an hour. Great town.

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