Nature is sublime in manifold ways, and she is not far away. Neither is she always related to the grand or spectacular. Her beauty may be sensed in the Dischidia plant hanging in your balcony, the yellow and white tulips sitting on your desk, the blooming Redbud tree by the edge of the woods, a glinting pebble on a beach, or the subtle colours of the sky at sundown. They’re there, always there, as though inviting to us to stop and look.
The Scottish poet Alastair Reid (1926-2014) expressed this sentiment well with the following words:
The point is the seeing,
the grace beyond recognition,
the ways of the bird rising,
beyond the range of language …
Manifold, the world dawns on
unrecognising, realizing eyes.
Amazement is the thing.
but the astonishment of loving.
Mary Oliver (1935-2019) is another writer whose abiding love for nature is match by an acute sense of the poetic. Below are passages from her essay ‘Upstream’ which is also the title of her 2016 book, a collection of essays that celebrates the endless wonders of nature.
I walked, all one spring day, upstream, sometimes in the midst of the ripples, sometimes along the shore. My company were violets, Dutchman’s breeches, spring beauties, trilliums, bloodroot, ferns rising so curled one could feel the upward push of the delicate hairs upon their bodies. My parents were downstream, not far away, then farther away because I was walking the wrong way, upstream instead of downstream. Finally, I was advertised on the hotline of help, and yet there I was, slopping along happily in the stream’s coolness. So maybe it was the right way after all. If this was lost, let us all be lost always … I do not think that I ever, in fact, returned home.
Do you think there is anything not attached by its unbreakable cord to everything else? Plant your peas and your corn in the field when the moon is full, or risk failure. This has been understood since planting began. The attention of the seed to the draw of the moon is, I suppose, measurable like the tilt of the planet. Or maybe not – maybe you have to add some unmeasurable ingredient made of the hour, the singular field, the hand of the sower.
Little by little, I waded from the region of coltsfoot to the spring beauties. From there to the trilliums. From there to the bloodroot. Then the dark ferns. Then the wild music of the water thrush.
Butterflies don’t write books, neither do lilies or violets. Which doesn’t mean they don’t know, in their own way, what they are. That they don’t know they are alive – that they don’t feel, that action upon which all consciousness sits, lightly or heavily. Humility is the prize of the leaf-world. Vainglory is the bane of us, the humans.
Now in the spring I kneel, I put my face into the packet of violets, the dampness, the freshness, the sense of ever-ness. Something is wrong, I know it, if I don’t keep my attention on eternity. May I be the tiniest nail in the house of the universe, tiny but useful. May I stay forever in the stream.