Leopold describes a nearby river as an artist who paints beautiful scenes on the surface of the water and on the banks. The river is temperamental, and it is impossible to know how the scene will change day to day, but Leopold appreciates it as ephemeral art.
Although not inherently valuable, Leopold finds joy in the beauty of the river, which operates without human intervention.
He warns that the only way to guarantee the river will paint a beautiful picture is to give the river “three or more weeks of solitude,” and then visit it only once to see how moss and sod has grown on the banks, along with various flowers, which have in turn attracted wild animals. You cannot preserve the beauty of the scene, but Leopold reminds the reader: “in your mind you may hang up your picture.”
Again, Leopold takes time to appreciate the beauty of the natural world, although it has no economic value, and cannot even be consistently preserved. Even though this scene is not constructed for him, and cannot always even be viewed, he finds it inherently valuable and important in the moment.