Learning to be astonished: Finding poetry in the preserves
By Kim Bowers
I’m often reminded of poetry when I’m in the preserves. I’ll just be walking along, and a line of poetry will come to mind. Sometimes from a poem, sometimes from a piece of prose.
Whatever the source, the words enhance my experience. They inspire me and help me enjoy the preserves even more. To my delight, ACRES has gifted me with the luxury of sharing some of this inspiration with you in a forthcoming online blog series, Poetry and Preserves.
Nature offers us an opportunity to walk free from the stresses of life. To remember what matters. In her poem The Messenger, Mary Oliver explores how nature encourages her to be grateful.
She worries: “Are my boots old? Is my coat torn? Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect?” She then prays to “keep my mind on what matters.” She notices “the phoebe, the delphinium. The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.” And as she notices natural beauty, she finds gratitude. She makes “standing still and learning to be astonished” her “work.” What beautiful work.
ACRES preserves offer the opportunity to make walking in nature part of our life’s work. When we’re in nature, we’re reminded to take care of it. And because nature helps us slow down and remember what matters, it also reminds us to take care of one another. What would happen if we began to think of walking in nature as important work? Would we walk more often? Would we encourage others to walk as well?
When I read Mary Oliver, I want to get out in nature. I want to feel the sun on my shoulders, I want to take a hike, listen for birds, notice the beauty in all creation.
Other writers also inspire me to get outside walking: Scott Russell Sanders, Langston Hughes, Gene Stratton-Porter, Emily Dickinson. The list goes on and on. I go to the preserves often. Sometimes to clear my mind of the day’s stresses, to take a break from grading, to unblock writer’s block. Sometimes I go with my dog or with a friend. Always I go with lines from literature I’ve stored over the years, lines that encourage me to reflect on my life and increase the joy I find in nature.
In Poetry and Preserves, I will share some of those lines. Perhaps you will remember a line or two when you next walk in the preserves. Perhaps you will grab a favorite book of poetry before you head out. Whatever the case, I hope you will walk with me a little, through the preserves. Through a book of poetry — and be astonished by life and all creation.
Kimberly P. Bowers is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Saint Francis where she teaches a variety of classes including Environmental Literature. Her students read poetry, essays, short stories, and the occasional novel to think more deeply about the natural world, human connections to it, and how nature impacts our relationships. She has published essays on environmental pedagogy and the Dixie Chicks.
Editor’s note: This post is re-posted from its original appearance in our Winter 2015 Quarterly publication and on our former blog. Kim is creating new Poetry & Preserves reflections for you.