My friend told me about a poet who stashed pencils in the branches of trees, so when out walking, she would always have something with which to write her poetry. It resonated with me, that love of the outdoors, the need to jot something down before the lines slip from memory.  

Mary Oliver was an American poet who won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, who wandered through the landscape, seeking out wildlife and foraging for poems. She would spend her days taking long walks in the woods or on the shore and wrote her poems which were full of insights into nature and the human spirit. 

Her words are an encouragement to embrace life, to wring the last vestige of joy from our days. 

‘Listen–are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?’ She wrote and challenged us to see beauty in what lays about us, to do ‘something’ with our lives and how the responsibility of happiness is ours and ours alone.  

When I had heard Mary Oliver had died earlier this year, I called my friend and told her the sad news. Straight away she suggested we spend the night out under the stars and share poetry with like-minded people and so, come May of this year, we did exactly that. Bundled with blankets and books, we headed to the beach for a night of fires shared with friends. Our tribute to Mary Oliver, who asked us in her poem, The Summer Day. ‘Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’

‘Wild Geese’ is one of Mary Olivers best-known works,

You do not have to be good.

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.                         

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

Here are a couple of links which you might find interesting if you would like further reading on Mary Oliver,