Years ago, I wrote a small book of poems that took the reader along on my journey from anesthesia to recovery from coronary bypass surgery. I began with terror and ended with hope. I thought it would be a guide for others experiencing the process—and some have called it a perfect description—but it was not well received. Perhaps it was too visceral. I received the comment from several sources that I should stick to nature poetry. Years later, I wrote this essay in response.
Speaking of Nature
Shall I speak to you of nature? I shall, but I must give a warning. Kali, the nature goddess and patroness of Calcutta, personifies the destructive forces of nature. When the typhoon, the earthquake, or the tidal wave strike, she is somewhere close by, adorned with her necklace of human skulls. Some illustrations show Kali with her foot on her husband's chest, his heart in her upraised hand.
She is indeed the bringer of enlightenment, but her wisdom has a price.
Aerial photographs of an area hit by a typhoon may reveal human bodies awash in an ocean. Some wave hands in the hope of summoning an unlikely rescue.
Those destructive forces of nature are essential for new growth. When wolves returned to Yellowstone after a long absence, they happily set about killing elk. Trees browsed and in decline recovered, and the forest regained its health. The herds became more vigorous under the predators' watchful eyes.
With the healthy growth of trees, beavers returned and dammed the streams. Rivers slowed down, and marshes grew. Fish populations thrived. Small mammals flourished.
So, nature is not a safe country for discourse, but I have known its beauty and grandeur. I see the beauty of canyons and waterfalls, and I suspect you refer to this beauty when you say nature. I will speak of those things as well.
I recall the rhythmic pulse of waves breaking on the rocky shores of the Florida Keys and the sands of Cape Cod, Assateague, and Edisto. The rhythm is like the pulse of a mother's heart and the waves not far removed from the amniotic ocean where our lives begin.
The clean smell of the receding tide reminds me of how fresh the world can be, and I forget the smell of oil and industrial refuse, which persists in some harbors.
The playfulness of otters on the Tennessee River or seals near Cape Cod's shores or dolphins off the coast of Florida fill my memory. I once learned the importance of playfulness from a Right Whale Calf who waved flippers and flukes as I watched from the deck of a boat.
I forget from time to time, but it is a recurring memory. It gives me hope that these creatures continue to recover. The three I saw—mother, calf, and escort—amounted to one percent of the three hundred that made up the worldwide population.
I have read that their population has now grown to 450. Perhaps these magnificent creatures will someday reach the population of thousands they numbered before whaling days. Such hopes provide my reason for speaking of nature.
After writing this essay, I discovered that a much better-known author had published a piece with the same title in Orion Magazine. Robin Wall Kimmerer’s essay is a wonderful exploration of how the words we use influence our thoughts. And those of others. You can read it here:Orion Magazine | Speaking of Nature
See my article on bird migration here
Images in this issue: Great Blue Herons at Chickamauga Dam.