Poetry and Environment

The process of nature writing evokes the image of an individual striving to build connections with the natural world. Observations of forests and fields, roadside parks and rooftop gardens provide us with raw materials. The nature journal, for example, contains descriptions, impressions and other incomplete renderings tracked in with the mud, wind and rain. A summer notebook placed on the shelf can percolate over fall. Take the book down off the shelf by mid-winter and you find the words fresh and ready to bring about a change of perspective. With too much description, however, nothing seems to happen. With too much focus on the self, the result can be disengagement from the world.

Brief interactions between people and place demonstrate this interplay. I walk along a ridge road, gray dust settled on the leaves of August elms. I stop to look at an old, ruined lime kiln. The forest is reclaiming it, sending up roots among the rocks, slowly pulling it apart even while the snow and rain erode it from above. Here, I might focus on the industry that this kiln provided the local community or on the temporary nature of past effort. I will selectively forget the mosquitos that hang in the undergrowth.

In a very different instance, I may eat a packed lunch on the patio of a corporate park that overlooks a vacant, dirt-piled lot. Lunch is too short a time to travel and this view may be all there is to see. The lot’s unfinished entrance fades into the rocks and weeds as the sun beats down on a turtle basking on the frayed asphalt. The future may see construction in this hinterland. Whatever the overall impression, lunch is over far too quickly.

Observations and feelings (in addition to outright usage) determine what places mean to us. If we think of the world outside of ourselves, hopefully, we also consider how to foster healthy interactions with it. This likely involves expanding our definitions of what constitutes nature. For instance, wilderness and air-conditioned environments are unlikely to be thought of together. When animal life finds its way into sanitized spaces, we acknowledge the oddness of the event (as any number of online video clips can attest). Although we may not fully understand such encounters, we should not be surprised when nature appears to us as opportunistic and at the same time seemingly indifferent to our presence.

Camping In

Be prepared to camp involuntarily
With back pack and boarding pass
As you double back along the trail
With a less determined gait.

A food court booth delivers you
From short-cropped carpets of in-ground crumbs
And micro-communities of thriving cultures
Fed on dry-gulch orange soda streams.

Passed a concrete forest, distant hikers
Clip their words and set up camp;
With make-do tents and knotted-coat pillows,
They settle in for a green-tiled night.

Pine-scented, late-night cleanings
Fill the air as a vacuum cord
Flails and slaps the carpeted ground
Like a snake dropped by an owl.

As the steady sound of an engine’s pulse
Draws the day’s new tourist drove,
Finches glide from ceiling joists
And soar about this blue-gray aviary.

You think that dawn brings recognition
From peaceful birds trapped in this space;
They land on chairs and turn their heads
For sesame seeds in cushion seams.

Blog post by Dale Potts

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