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Shapes of Nature Mar 27 09

This amazing, black-winged butterfly is nothing you’re ever likely to spot flitting among the milkweeds in a Michigan field. You can find it, however, at the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, where the annual butterfly exhibit is underway in the tropical conservatory through April 30. The fellow here is just one of a multitude of beauties featured at the Gardens, and a dramatic example of the endless array of shapes and colors woven into nature’s tapestry.

With its magnificent greenhouses, nature trails, exhibits, and world-class sculpture park, Meijer Gardens has done a stellar job of showcasing the beauty of both natural and human art, and their graceful interconnection. But you don’t have to visit a conservatory to enjoy the artistry of nature. From cobblestone Great Lakes shores and rugged Keweenaw outcroppings to sunlit, inland fields and quiescent forests…from spider webs strung like dewdrop necklaces among the meadow grasses at sunrise, to silver-edged night clouds passing like swans before the moon…the Michigan outdoors abounds with the masterpieces of a mighty Artist who paints the world in living color.

The shapes of nature—beautiful, quirky, evocative. Shapes within shapes; forms reminiscent of other forms. Remember the childhood pastime of gazing up at the clouds and seeing all kinds of things in their appearance—a sailing ship, a giraffe, a fat man pushing a wheelbarrow? Chances are you still see shapes in the clouds today. Look around you and you’ll notice similarities in other places as well. An old, weatherbeaten stump resembles a woodland gnome. Viewed at just the right angle, a tangle of driftwood becomes an eagle in flight. Along the trailside, a knothole at the base of a tree peers up at you like one eye of a great owl.

Hiking last week out at Pickerel Lake in east-central Kent County, I stopped along the boardwalk to take in the sight of a sunken tree trunk thrusting up out of the waters, its dead branches reaching like old, gray fingers toward the sky. Here was a sculpture worthy of any showroom, and free of charge. Talk about art that integrates with a landscape, this piece of art was the landscape, or at least, a vital part of it—an ensemble of curves and lines, knots and sinew, reflected in the blue, mirror-smooth surface of the lake. No human sculptor could have conceived a more elegant form or planned a more exquisite display.

As spring progresses, the naked linearity of the winter landscape will clothe itself in gentler, vernal attire. Already you can see fuzz on some of the trees, and in another couple of weeks, a red haze will begin to infiltrate the woodlands as the tiny flowers of the maples flush into bloom. In the distance as I write, a large bird is circling in the thermals that come as warmer weather arrives, and a field of stratocumulus is thickening overhead, hinting at moist air pumping in from the south. Today is not exactly a warm day, but it is also not a cold one. If I didn’t have to be in Big Rapids in a few hours, I would take a hike. I love this time of year in Michigan—the time when spring is just beginning to set up shop. The time when nature’s cycle begins anew, and the artwork of the outdoors moves from black-and-white to full color.

The display is just beginning. Walk slowly, keep your senses attuned, and enjoy.




Written by Dave.