My Father Loved Beauty

My father loved beauty, but he didn’t worship it. He didn’t want to acquire it for power and he didn’t want to regulate it in any way. What I observed him doing was trying to become one with it. It was as though he drank it in wherever he found it, tried to absorb beauty through his very skin.

We were riding fence one day in the Fish Creek area of the lower Kananaskis in a June preceded by ample spring rains. He stopped as we topped a rise and I brought my horse up next to his to see what he saw. I expected he had sighted where a herd of elk had trampled the hay-field. Or, it could have been something more exciting like a bear that had been drawn down from Crown Land to the west by the scent of a calf carcass.

Actually, the sight that stopped my father that morning was an expanse of wild tiger lilies resplendent in the emerald grass of early summer. Splashes of brilliant orange and black against the green — a sight I will remember always as though through his eyes — exquisite beyond comprehension. What was all that beauty created for? If we were the only ones to ever see that vista, was it all simply a gift for us? And he loved his Creator for it.

My father noticed what we wore. If it was tasteful, in his understated way he would confide, “You look lovely, dear.” He’d listen to me practice the piano and my sister her songs and he’d gladly come to our recitals and performances. We didn’t want him to come to our competitions, though, because the anguish was too much for him. He’d listen to each competitor, white knuckled and motionless. It wasn’t in any way a desperation for his daughters to win or fear that we’d fail him. It was more a general anxiety for all the performers to do their best, but most of all for justice to rule. I think his tension, perhaps, was over whether the judges could hear beauty.

He kept a tape of his favorite opera, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, in the ranch truck and played it constantly. He knew it backward and forward, could anticipate when the rise and fall of the melody would wrench tears from his eyes. When the opera came to Calgary he bought tickets for us all, and when the final curtain fell I saw him wipe his eyes for a few moments with an already dampened white monogrammed handkerchief.