Skating on black ice

Skating on black ice

On Mary Oliver’s passing, and the power of poetry to connect us to the natural world

BRATTLEBORO — This week I skated on black ice on a lake near my home, as did so many in my small community.

The rare chance to experience the natural effect of newly frozen water offers a doorway into the natural world. It is an invitation to take pause, to put aside the worries of the day, and to feel the cold air in our faces and the freedom of our bodies as we glide over smooth, translucent ice.

It was while skating that I first learned of poet Mary Oliver's passing.

It felt fitting to reflect on Oliver's life and work, her simple use of language, and her intimate observations of nature in such an austere and visceral setting, the black frozen lake passing underneath me.

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I was reminded of the power that poetry can play in our lives and in shaping the way we approach climate change.

In a time when the effects of climate change loom over our future, it's easy to feel despair and hopelessness as the science and data come at us daily. Poetry has the ability to take us out of ourselves and to feel connected and grounded.

In her poem “Wild Geese,” Oliver writes:

§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 your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

I'm also reminded of naturalist poet Wendell Berry, who writes, “Be joyful/though you have considered all the facts.”

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Science, while crucial to our understanding of climate change, can't elicit the emotional, lump-in-your-throat, gut feeling that Oliver or Berry induce through poetry.

In the same way that skating on black ice pulls us into and connects us with the natural world, so too can poetry.

As a snowstorm approaches, I'll return to the ice today, hearing laser-like sounds of shifting ice alongside Oliver's words in my head, ready to go forward as an ally to the natural world.

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