Do looks really matter? This topic is better suited to philosophers, but a series of observations from my trip to the Baltics earlier this year with the Kansas Farm Bureau’s Casten Fellows Program has had me questioning my belief that if something works, it does not matter if it looks good. I have pondered the value of aesthetics in the spaces where we spend our time and the possessions with which we fill them.

Maybe the most important part of this realization has been that the aesthetics of the environments we create and spend time in are not just a reflection of a person, they also reflect into the person.

This realization came slowly, pieced together from some of the most obvious parts of our trip to this northern region of Europe. Everywhere we went we saw flowers. Not small or neutral toned flowers, but big, vibrant flowers.

We knew people in this region had a particular connection to nature, but this was also much further north than where I grew up in Wisconsin. I know how hard it is to grow beautiful flowers there because it is a cold region.

Why would people in a cold region have so many beautiful, colorful flowers? It was more than flowers and artfully designed landscaping. Everywhere I looked, there was beauty and happiness; greenhouses dotting most back yards; spaces that were well kept, cozy and lived-in.

The pride and joy the Baltic people had in their homes, businesses and whole country was obvious everywhere we looked. The most surprising part of the realization came close to the end of the trip: There was a constant feeling of contentment, relaxation and joy. Even after almost two weeks of travel, experience overload and long days, I just felt happy and peaceful because everything was so nice.

The Baltics are not a country filled with material possessions or dependent on a need for new fueled by vanity or greed. They appreciate old and historic because it is what they have. The realities of communism during Soviet occupation are a not so distant memory. They fought for the freedom to make things their own, they are grateful to be able to ability to maintain them and want to live in places that are functional, beautiful and bring them joy.

I returned home with a burst of energy to show more pride of ownership and appreciation for my own home, but knew I needed to start small because I was on my own for the project during harvest. I decided to fix the very short section of fence that adorns the entrance to our driveway. It had been rep­­­­ainted so many times it was a decaying eyesore.

I don’t have space to recount the whole humorous story, but you can imagine how it went by my new title of “Lumberjack Princess.” Tired, dirty and a little banged-up, I knew that my observations had been correct. My idea, my work, my perseverance, made the fence even more beautiful in the moment. Even after a few months, I smile every time I drive in the yard or think about the project because I made that. And I know now that rest of the world can somehow tell that, even if it is just from the way it looks.

My momentum from the fence build has grown in this Christmas season. A visitor or passerby at my home will now see a site I never expected to create at a farmhouse so far off the beaten path: an amateur-built, festively decorated welcoming fence.

The effort we make with the look of our world shows pride and brings joy far beyond the recognition that might come from the outside world. My efforts, small or large, are not to impress the world, but for my own fulfillment.