Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Bird in Hand

The older I get, the more I crave the tactile, the real, the palpable. So much of my formal education was spent in the abstract appreciation of the aesthetic and the theoretical, but now I relish the beauty of practical things. For my morning exercise, I've been climbing stairs while listening to the Modern Scholar lecture series from Recorded Books, and it has surprised me how much more I have preferred the lectures on human anatomy over music. Perhaps it is my own simple-mindedness, but the context of basic survival makes the questions of form and function seem more significant, and the solutions more elegant. Oftentimes, the most useful is also the most beautiful.

Take the Alpine Butterfly, pictured above. In preparation for a rock climbing class I've been learning some basic climber's knots, and I don't think I have ever seen such a perfect marriage of simplicity and function as the Alpine Butterfly. If you need to hang something from the middle of your rope, you could not in a hundred years invent a thing more symmetrical, practical, or easier to remember than this very basic knot, made by passing a line a few times across the palm of your hand. I have read many poems in my time, but none more elegant than that.
[Above: Another wonderfully symmetrical knot--the Double Fisherman's Bend, an ingenious means of joining two rope ends via interlocking hitches.]

K. has also enjoyed learning with her hands, taking a weekly sign language class from the wife of a deaf man in our congregation. I have always been a little envious of the expressiveness that sign language affords its speakers, which is probably why some cultures (I'm looking at you, Italians) love speaking with their hands. [Above: K. makes the sign for "bread." Below: the sign for "magic."]

Say "Cheese!"