AS WE DRAW CLOSER TO THE APRIL 1 DEADLINE FOR THE GREENING UP THE MOUNTAINS POETRY CONTEST, I'D LIKE TO SHARE ONE OF MY FAVORITE POEMS BY THE POET MARY OLIVER. SHE HAS WON BOTH THE PULITZER PRIZE AND THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR HER WORK. SHE VISITED WCU QUITE A FEW YEARS AGO TO READ AND VISIT CLASSES.
I'VE ALWAYS LOVED TO CAMP, WATCHING THE FIRE DIE OUT, CRAWLING INTO OUR TENT, AND LISTENING TO THE FOREST SOUNDS AROUND ME (IF THE NEARBY CAMPERS ARE NOT PLAYING THEIR MUSIC TOO LOUD!) BEFORE I FELL ASLEEP.
ONCE A MOTHER BEAR AND HER TWO CUBS WOKE US UP, AND THAT WAS NOT A PEACEFUL EXPERIENCE. THE TENT WAS SHAKING, THE BEARS WERE GRUNTING AND SNUFFLING. NEXT MORNING, OUR NEIGHBOR TOLD US THAT THE MOTHER HAD CLIMBED UP ON HIS MOTOR CYCLE AND LOOKED AS IF SHE WAS GETTING READY TO ROAR OFF.
TRY TO CALL UP SOME OF YOUR SENSORY EXPERIENCES WHILE SLEEPING OUTSIDE, WHETHER IN YOUR BACKYARD OR AT A CAMPGROUND. WHAT DOES IT FEEL LIKE TO SLEEP ON THE EARTH, WHAT SORTS OF THOUGHTS DO YOU HAVE? DO THEY FLOAT LIGHT AS MOTHS, AS OLIVER WRITES, OR DO THEY SKITTER AROUND LIKE MOSQUITOES? OR HAUNT YOU, LIKE THE HOOT OF AN OWL? WHAT DO YOU HEAR? WHAT DO YOU SMELL? IS THERE A CREEK NEARBY? CAN YOU HEAR THUNDER? OR RAIN?
THEN WRITE YOUR OWN POEM ABOUT SLEEPING IN THE FOREST, RIGHT HERE IN OUR BLUE RIDGE MOUNTAINS.
Sleeping in the Forest
I thought the earth remembered me,
she took me back so tenderly,
arranging her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds.
I slept as never before, a stone on the river bed,
nothing between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated light as moths
among the branches of the perfect trees.
All night I heard the small kingdoms
breathing around me, the insects,
and the birds who do their work in the darkness.
All night I rose and fell, as if in water,
grappling with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.
from Sleeping In The Forest by Mary Oliver
© Mary Oliver