We’ve had a bit of a heatwave here in Oregon this past July. Temps hovered in the high 90s to 100 degrees for over a week. Even though I had AC installed in the house as a result of the catastrophic heat dome a year ago in June, Raymond and I were feeling a bit housebound. For a reprieve from the heat we headed out to Netarts Bay on the coast to kayak for the day.
Coincidentally, also seeking the bay’s refuge was a population of brown pelicans who were aerial feeding- quite a sight. Watching them was the highlight of my day. This poem came to me shortly thereafter.
Who doesn’t love flowers? There seems to be even more of a special place in people’s hearts for the wildflowers found in nature. Here in Oregon it is prime wildflower season. Some are even blooming currently in my new native plant garden. Especially prevalent right now are camas (Camas quamash), beautiful blue-violet spikes of star-like flowers that pop up in the meadows. They were a significant food source for the Native Americans that once inhabited the area
About 40 minutes away from my home in the town of West LInn a new Nature Conservancy site opened up last year, the Camassia Nature Preserve. The 22 acre parcel is a mix of lush forest, meadows, and oak savannah with a boardwalk that meanders the main route. There is about 2 miles of hiking trails in the area. Also prevalent are glacial erratics- boulders from Montana and Canada that were dropped in this area after the great floods that occurred after the melting of the ice sheets that covered the north during the Ice Age.
Yesterday the weather was lovely, partly sunny and in the 60s, a welcome change from the rain and cool temperatures. I decided to take a drive and check it out. I was not disappointed!
Here are some of the things I saw in this special place.
A bit of wildflower trivia…
The reason you may often see the dazzling combination of bright yellow and purple wildflowers together is that it attracts pollinators- and humans seeking beauty.
And…my photos really don’t do this place justice!
Looked what bloomed today!
a wild Iris
a queen amidst my garden
her lilac petals arch gracefully
like arms in a curtsy
about her throat a white collar
etched with fine black lines
with a blush of gold
Gaudy hybrids shout for my attention
down the driveway
but it's her sublime elegance
that captures my wild heart
The title of this post is the first line of Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese.”
The poem continues:
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves……
I came upon this poem years ago. It was the first poem that I loved, that I could pull around me like a homemade quilt. It became my anthem of sorts.
Now the interesting thing is Oliver did not set out to write a greatest hit, nor any work of great meaning. According to an interview with OnBeing, she created this poem quite informally to illustrate the difference between end-stopped lines and enjambment to another poet. But words are powerful and when she released this poem to the world it spoke deeply to many people. It’s become one of her most loved poems.
For me, it permitted me to do the work I needed to do regardless that I sucked. Do it anyway. Over the years I’ve agonized over my work like every other creative, but her poem on my wall makes me understand that it’s not the likes, the money, or the accolades. I do not have to suffer for my art. Ultimately, it’s the daily practice of doing and honing my craft. It’s what my soul calls to me to do (which did not include quitting my day job).
Time is no excuse. Write the poems in grocery lines, at stoplights (using voice memo), doodle designs in boring meetings. The dream won’t happen unless you do it- unless you listen to the voice of the wild geese within.
I never was interested in poetry until I read “Wild Geese” until I read Mary Oliver and discovered more poetry. Now I write it. Here is the poem in its entirety…
Sometimes when there is a tragedy in a far-off place, the only thing one can do is perform symbolic gestures. My family had ties to Ukraine until they fled violence 200 years ago. Today people continue flee. Since the invasion of Ukraine, I find solace in drawing, writing, and mending forgotten tears with a needle and thread.
“The Journey of a Thousand Miles begins with a single step”- Lao Tsu
This is one of my favorite quotes. It’s been a mantra for my life. I would add to that “keep going.”
Sitting down to a blank canvas or piece of paper can be daunting. Procrastination takes over. but it’s action that inspires creative energy not necessarily the other way around. Risk is inherent for a full life and with that risk comes failure. Any type of artist will tell you that you have to be willing to fail to learn. Just check out their recycle bins. Only their best work goes on display.
I just finished planting my native plant garden. It looks very sparse right now as the plants are still sleeping awaiting the arrival of spring. I’ve been rather awed by how this project manifested in relatively a short amount of time considering my lack of knowledge. Like the rest of my pursuits, it started with an idea followed by one action after another. I’m sure I have made some mistakes. So be it. Completion is my preference over perfection.
Commitment is a powerful force. The hardest part is starting and getting past the fear. I wrote this poem about it.
Refuge- it’s personal where one feels a sense of peace and security. In the last few years, numerous of my natural refuges have been destroyed by wildfires, development, and clearing for agriculture. There is no stopping it. Climate change marches on despite my best efforts. I live lightly, donate money, and write letters without the satisfaction of seeing much change. Thus I’ve taken to the one thing I do have control over which is my own backyard. I mean that in a literal sense.
I’m starting to take one section of my yard at a time and rewilding it by putting it into a native plant garden. I really don’t know what I am doing but thus far determination and a boatload of good advice have been enough despite my fears. It was a big deal to have a dump truck arrive and deposit 5 yards of soil in the middle of my driveway then the following week spend over a thousand dollars on native plants. Vison is a strong force when you act on it.
My only big regret in life is that I didn’t take the time to document my experiences more. I’ve kept a journal on and off since I was 16, which is admiral, but I wish I had expanded my entries to snippets of sensory experience and fascinations other than just emotional spew. But, in my defense, I was a teenager and I avoided language arts classes finding them tedious.
Looking back even recording one thing that made my day would have been such a precious collection to look back on. No one told me then that those little vignettes from my life in Alaska, raising my son, and those hilarious “kids say the darndest things” moments teaching 6th-grade science would be so longed for. Of course, I have hundreds of photos but without some words as accompaniment, they are incomplete memories. I was always too busy, thinking I would remember everything. Then “poof” those clear memories vanish like steam. The same goes with some solution to a nagging problem or those creative inspirations I get as I drift off to sleep.
I have been on crutches for over two months now from a serious knee injury I have mentioned in previous posts. Ten days ago I was given the green light from my doctor to ditch the crutches and begin weight-bearing around the house. Sadly, after 3 days the pain returned. Instantly I went from hope to a state of despair. How much longer will I have to endure this?
By “chance” I tuned into an episode of the OnBeing podcast called the “Future of Hope” an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert, who happens to be one of my heroes. During the interview by Pico Iyer, Gilbert speaks of how she navigated the pandemic and also the death of her life partner, Rayya from cancer. Here are two excerpts from that interview which I needed to hear…
“if there is one thing that I, if I had the chance to do it over again, could’ve done differently, would’ve been to walk into it in a stance of surrender — arms collapsed, no clipboard, no agenda, no cherished outcome — and to have almost gone limp into it, which is not the same thing as hopelessness, but it is a very powerful stance to take in the wake of something that is bigger than you are.”
“And a friend of mine gave me a tip: to lower my standards of gratitude, to lower the bar and to catch the low-hanging fruit so that it’s not — it doesn’t have to be these huge, epic, grandiose gratitudes. The more physical they are, the more I felt it in my body. My gratitude for these slippers that I have that have an insole that you can put in the microwave and you can warm up your feet, that’s on my gratitude list almost every day. And I feel it neurologically. Even when I say it, I remember how comfortable those slippers feel, and remembering that doesn’t necessarily send me into despair over the state of the world, and it starts to kind of rewire my brain.”
Such good advice in tough times be it a pandemic, death of a loved one, or an injured knee.