Flowers in Guatemala

Flowers in Guatemala
          I once was on a retreat with the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in one of the most beautiful settings in the world, Lake Atitlan in the Guatemalan highlands. The retreat house looked out over the lake, ringed by four volcanic peaks and a dozen shoreline villages. While the Quakers were occupied with meetings to discuss the issues on their agenda, I had the freedom to hike along the cliff's edge, seeking inspiration for some drawings, and some meditative peace for my own thoughts.
          When I go out to hike for inspiration from nature, I am like a scientist, seeking to understand through observation the world in which I wander. I look for details in things that interest me, and I try to see clearly what I am looking at./ I have found this to be a reliable method for capturing images, and I become more informed of the world's reality.
          As I hiked along, I paused to admire a cluster of orange flowers. I had already noticed their profusion in the retreat house compound. They were everywhere; prolific, and hard to ignore. As I inspected them more closely, I had a revelatory moment. It was a clear refutation of the Platonic ideal form. As I examined the blossoms, I realized that no two of them were alike, yet they all adhered to some essential form that could be discerned in the form of each. It was something that made each blossom a member of the same family.
          Their genetic coding had provided each bud with what I saw as a template; a set of parameters of design within which all variations could be tried. No doubt nature would try them all. The fount of possibilities was to me so vast as to be effectively infinite. Perhaps Plato would have argued that each blossom was an imperfect reflection of an idealized blossom in another, higher realm. What I saw spoke differently.
          Rather than each blossom being an imperfect copy of the ideal, I saw each as an improvisation on a theme, to the limits of this flower's particular template. There was no perfect form; no right or wrong answer. Plato's idealism, I feel, is an attempt to apply human morality to an amoral universe. There were only these genetic limits for each blossom, free to grow its own way within them.
          It was rather like a violinist playing a Tchaikovsky concerto. Each musician who plays it plays the same notes, but each musician, being of a different personality, performs those notes individually, and affects the way in which the notes are stressed, held, curled or dampened. (It's okay to listen to the Concerto in D while you read this.) The performer stamps the composer's written blueprint with his or her own individual interpretation.
          Any composer, any artist knows that there is no one correct interpretation of a work. Even if the composer leaves detailed instructions, each performer comes at it differently. Like each blossom, the composition is limited by its structure, and allows for individual interpretation of the theme.
          This itself becomes perfection of the flower; the ideal is not 'up there', in a heaven; perfection is in the hand here. It's in the perfection that al living things, all planets and rocks, fit the same pattern. The composition is a template, then. And you and I, we are all individual responses to the human template.
Ray Allard,  June 1, 2011