When wild things disappear

By: Steve Payne | June 9, 2010

Those of you who have read the latest issue (July/August) of Organic Gardener might have reached page 88 by now and the poems by Peter Shepherd and Robert Frost.

I do like to weave some poetry into OG, just as I like to search for it in the wider world and our attempts to lead a meaningful life.

Some years ago now, I featured the poem Wild Geese by Canadian Pulitzer Prize winning poet Mary Oliver. It’s one of my all time favourite poems from one of the world’s great writers, combining a love and close appreciation of the natural world, with the essence of what it is to be human and alive and sharing the planet with other living things.

Having lent my copy of Oliver’s New and Selected Poems, Vol 1, and failed to note the borrower’s name anywhere, and subsequently lost the book, I decided to order Vol 1 and 2, and also vowed to not lend it out again without proper record and a deposit of the rarest heirloom melons seeds, or some other precious bounty.

I’ve received both volumes in the mail today, and been able to reread many of the poems. They take me back to when I first heard Wild Geese, read by the Japanese forest activist Lima Kimura, at an international permaculture conference two decades ago. I went up to Lima after the reading and asked her about the poem and she introduced me to Oliver’s writing. We then worked on an article together, one of my all time favourites, about Lima’s work bringing Japanese people to Australia to experience ‘deep ecology’ in the Australian forests, appreciating the beauty of the natural world, and recognising the costs of wood-chipping old growth forests for Japanese paper products.

Oliver too, has written about the environmental costs of human negligence and greed. One of her poems in Vol 2, Lead, is about loons, (aquatic birds), and their death “one by one” after visiting her area’s harbour “of nothing we could see”.

I leave you with a few lines:

A friend told me of one on the shore that lifted its head and opened the elegant beak and cried out in the long, sweet savoring of its life which, if you have heard it, you know is a sacred thing.

Mary Oliver’s New and Selected Poems, Vol 1 & Vol 2 are published by Beacon Press (USA)

http://www.beacon.org/

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