postcard imperfection

We’re driving into Jasper, Alberta. White-capped mountains embroider blue-cloth sky. Turquoise ponds are fringed by mossy stones.


“Doesn’t this remind you of the backdrop in the ‘Sound of Music’?” someone says.


“Yeah,” another replies. “It’s like a postcard.”


What kind of world do we live in, that we compare breathtaking reality with man-made material? Shouldn’t it be the other way around?


When I see a deer, I shouldn’t automatically think of Bambi. I should think of my father-in-law who spends hours in the woods feeding and studying the patterns of deer.


When I see Jasper’s jagged Rockies I shouldn’t think of Sound of Music; I should marvel at the majesty of creation.


Television has deprived us of critical thinking. We take things at face value, no longer questioning for the stimulation of the screen. Everything is eye-candy, a feast for the senses, masking truth and lies, making them one and the same.


We stop to explore the glacier at Mount Edith. It’s blue with age, as tall as 25 humans stacked against each other, leaking tears which splash against grey mountain crevices, flowing into a pristine ice-cold lake at the bottom. We marvel, take Kodak moments, failing to understand how much loss is symbolized by this leaking pile of ice. How the glacier is weeping from the effects global warming. Once again, we’ve missed the meaning for the picture. We are standing in a stone-cold graveyard.


Driving home, rainbows spill Crayola-colours across the sky. I once again think of how ‘nice’ it looks. Then my husband reminds me of their Biblical promise, how they symbolize a maker’s promise to withhold his rage until the end of time.


When will we learn to truly see? To once again learn from our surroundings? We’re being destroyed by our addiction to pretty postcards which in the end will kill the very trees they claim to emulate.




  1. naomi said,

    August 12, 2008 at 4:51 am

    Powerful, Em.

  2. naomi said,

    August 12, 2008 at 4:51 am

    ps did you mean “emulate” at the end there? (you can delete this 🙂

  3. Annie said,

    August 12, 2008 at 5:04 pm

    Great points!

    I too have been struck by how easily we settle for the artificial representation of reality, as opposed to getting out and experiencing reality itself (in this case – nature). It goes to show that what we normally immerse ourselves in becomes a sort of “reality” to us. Our standard, default setting of “normal” becomes whatever environment we are most exposed to (be it artificial or real in essence). And you’re right – it does become difficult to separate the actual from the representational at that point. We find ourselves comparing everything we witness to what we already know – as if that were the prior existing reality.

    (Before I go any further, I should confess that I do love the movie “Sound of Music,” partly because of the scenery of the Austrian Alps, and the freedom and glorious music that it inspires in the protagonist Maria – so I might be guilty of imagining that sort of wild dancing and singing myself when faced with the mountains of Jasper!) 🙂

    I agree that we do need to get away from the TV screen, which has the impoverishing effect of trying to do our thinking and imagining for us. Instead, we need to get out and observe the majesties (both great and small) of nature. There’s no replicating that! It is what it is, most powerfully.

    Yet the experience of witnessing nature in its overwhelming reality also has the ability to point us beyond itself. It is a testimony to the imagination and power of its Creator. It is also a gift to meet the needs He has placed in us – our need for beauty and wildness, as well as our physical needs. So we should rest content when we simply experience and witness creation for the marvel that it is, knowing that God wants us to enjoy it. At the same time, there are infinite levels of meaning to be found, when we open our eyes and hearts to see them. Creation itself is representational of a Reality beyond. Sometimes it offers a glimpse of heaven, or recalls us to God’s promises; other times it may painfully remind us of the current imperfection and suffering – the consequences of sin – in this world. But either way, it is a good place to confront and interact with the Lord, more directly through His creation, rather than through ours.

    I don’t think we should ever come away with a doom-and-gloom view of the world after our interactions with God and nature, though. Is that not simply projecting our preconceived notions from our “normal” environments onto the reality that we encounter? Glaciers melt in the summertime – that is what they do. And unless we know that all glaciers are disappearing, with dire consequence to the world at the causing of our hands (which is actually not the consensus of evidence-based science or international geophysicists and climatologists), a glacier may just be doing what it’s supposed to do! We must be stirred to preserve and protect the life and resources God gave us, in deepest wisdom and gratitude. I get pretty worked up when I observe wastefulness or wanton harm to any form of God’s creation. But I feel keenly that we must strive to carefully, accurately understand what exactly the “big picture” is, when faced with tiny moments and events within it. After all, if our broader understanding has been shaped by man-made, artificial environments, we cannot automatically assume that we draw true conclusions about the realities of nature in its specifics. That said, I agree that we need to train ourselves to look beyond the immediate moment, the surface of things, to see the greater meaning. We do miss so much by looking but not seeing!

    The only way to have more of those “natural” epiphanies is to be out exposing ourselves to the source of them on a regular basis. We need to be soaking in the sights and sounds and pleasures (and even pains) of creation, to re-orient our sense of reality from the artificial and representational, to the glories themselves. And then to see beyond all the manifestations of glory to the greatest Glory of all!

  4. joannamallory said,

    August 12, 2008 at 8:00 pm

    Thanks for articulating this so clearly, Emily. It challenges me to take time to see what’s there instead of just seeing what it reminds me of. I wonder if that’s part of living truly in the moment.

    Hope you had a great vacation!

  5. Darcie said,

    August 16, 2008 at 11:35 pm

    Em! I loved this post. I’m not sure if you remember but way back in the Geez summer issue from 2007. Anyways, Aiden Enns wrote an article called Find the Eyes to See. He was writing about how he didn’t want to watch a movie with his friends because he he didn’t want a movie to “skew his perception of the natural world.” He said “When I see birds in the sky, I don’t want to think of some documentary movie, I want to think of birds in the sky.”

    Anyways 🙂 I thought your thoughts coincided well with his and that his article was also worth a re-read (as is your post) 🙂 xox

  6. joannamallory said,

    August 17, 2008 at 7:54 pm

    A related danger: seeing a beautiful sight and reaching for the camera instead of truly taking it in. I like to take pictures, but I wonder how much I’ve missed by looking through the viewfinder instead of using my unaided eyes.

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