A Case of the Human Condition: Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beholder – But What If There’s No Beholder?

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

Something big and white and cloudy was lurking in the steep canyon below our house. I stood up from my computer and peered out the window for a better look.

A shrub with red berries, a Monterey pine

A shrub with red berries, a Monterey pine, a rangy bay laurel. Photos c 2010 B.F. Newhall

It was flowering tree, growing wild.

I’d never noticed that tree before. You can barely see it from our house. It’s surrounded on all sides by more predictable trees: A rangy bay laurel and its offspring. A couple of young and aggressive live oaks. An aging Monterey pine. A gigantic cypress. Also, an anonymous shrub with red berries that I have never much liked. 

But here it is February, early spring in Oakland, California. And a fruit tree – an apple? a plum? – is blossoming right below my back yard.

I went outdoors to get a better look, only to lose sight of the tree entirely. It’s probably a beautiful thing, I thought. But what a waste. All that splendor and no one to pay homage to it.

The hidden tree comes into view as I work my way down the canyon.

The hidden tree comes into view as I work my way down the canyon.

I resolved to make my way down the hill later in the week and appreciate that tree up close. Take a picture. Record the poignant, fleeting lives of those white blossoms.

And so, last Friday I grabbed our camera, put on my hiking boots and a pair of old, expendable pants, and made the steep downhill journey through mud, blackberry, sourgrass, and a rotting tree stump.

When I finally reached the hidden tree, I saw that it was a tangled mass of limbs, branches and twigs, many of them dead. Clearly no gardener prunes or tends this tree. It’s on its own. And this season, all on its own, it has produced thousands of small white flowers, each one quietly surging with life and – it seemed to me – intention.

Photos c 2010 B.F. Newhall

Photos c 2010 B.F. Newhall

I snapped my pictures, but I did not linger under the tree. I couldn’t get much of a foothold on the muddy hillside. Also, my feet were getting wet, and I needed to get back to my writing room. I had work to do.

Picking my way back up the slippery hillside, I felt satisfied that this patch of beauty had not gone unappreciated. I had personally given it its full fifteen minutes of fame.

Back at the house I kicked off my muddy boots and thought about the proverbial tree falling in the woods. If no one hears it crash, does it make a sound?

Likewise, if no one sees this small tree bloom, is it beautiful? What if I hadn’t been here to take note – and a snapshot? Could that cloud of blossoms have been beautiful without me? Without a beholder, is there beauty?

Maybe God is like that tree, hidden, and beautiful whether I show up with my camera or not.

© 2010 Barbara Falconer Newhall


A meyer lemon tree? A plum? The results of an apple core I threw down into the canyon twenty years ago?

A plum tree? The result of an apple core I threw down the canyon twenty years ago?




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  1. Larhonda
    Posted December 9, 2013 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    Hello, i read your blog occasionally and i own a similar one and i was just curious if you get a lot of spam remarks? If so how do you reduce it, any plugin or anything you can suggest? I get so much lately it’s driving me insane so any support is very much appreciated.

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall
      Posted December 11, 2013 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

      Hello, I get very little spam. There are spam filters you can install that help hugely. You need to ask someone more technical than I to suggest one and maybe help you install it. Good luck!

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© 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 Barbara Falconer Newhall. and www.GodsBigBlog.com. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog's author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used provided that full and clear credit is given to Barbara Falconer Newhall and www.GodBigBlog.com with appropriate and specifc direction to the original content. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Church of Christ in the USA. The Psalms are from the Book of Common Prayer, 1979. Material originally published and copyrighted by the Oakland Tribune is posted here by permission. WordPress theme adapted from Thematic Theme Framework