Walking with Mary Oliver


TJ Lindstrom

A path at the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes near JCU.

TJ Lindstrom, Opinion Editor

At Blackwater Pond the tossed waters have settled after a night of rain.
I dip my cupped hands. I drink
a long time. It tastes
like stone, leaves, fire. It falls cold
into my body, waking the bones. I hear them
deep inside me, whispering
oh what is that beautiful thing 
that just happened?

-Mary Oliver

It’s cliché at this point to say that times are tough. The entire world abruptly coming to a halt has shaken many of us. It’s certainly shaken me. The world has felt much more boring, isolated and anxiety-inducing than ever. With the prospect of a lonely Thanksgiving on the horizon, a season for comfort and togetherness has instead become a painful reminder of our distance.

So, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking. Last week, I took a two-hour walk from my house near JCU to the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes. I’ve always enjoyed long walks. They’re something of a deep breath –– a precious opportunity to step away from life and think for a second. The walks have been growing longer lately. 

At some point on this most recent walk, it dawned on me just how much the words of Mary Oliver have meant to me this year. With her strong reverence, sometimes even religiosity, for nature, her words are a constant reminder of the timeless beauty of the natural world. It’s something not isolation nor anxiety nor a pandemic can deminish. 

I first found a book of her poetry while staying over at my grandmother’s house last year. I was watching the house while she was away and figured I’d read something. I remember staying up that entire night captivated by her poems. I immediately fell in love with the way she so gently considers the world. 

And so, the next morning, as any good grandson would, I stole the book. I feel obligated now to say that I would never condone petty theft. I just figured I’d return it before she even noticed it was gone … I still haven’t returned it. 

Instead, it sits on my desk like a “break glass in case of emergency” box. When the world starts to feel small or the new reality gets to me, I pick up Mary Oliver and read a few pages. Of course, it doesn’t fix everything. It doesn’t make everything suddenly okay again, but it offers some perspective. 

Then, I like to take a nice walk, see some deer, smell the fall air and hear the leaves rustle beneath my feet. What is that beautiful thing that just happened?