By Elizabeth Slade
May 9, 2013
Yesterday some young writers and I set out to attempt nature poetry. We walked out of school to a sky considering rain and made our way across the parking lot, down the sidewalk, across the street and then, leaving the concrete world behind, down a path into the woods. The change in the students was palpable. Their senses sprang into gear as they left the familiar and entered the natural world.
Planning ahead, we had each brought a clipboard supplied with blank paper and a pencil, so when they spotted a fallen log with wide, plate-like fungus growing over it we were prepared to stop and sketch it. One boy was eager to knock it all off and I realized that these students, new to the world of nature, needed direct instruction about how to be in it. Draw rather than destroy, regard rather than ruin, allow rather than avoid. So we stood around sketching the puzzling sight.
We then followed the path looking for a spot to write, getting glimpses of the water through the leaf brush until there was a small clearing. “Let’s go down there!” I said to them. Looking in their dubious faces I might have reconsidered, but instead waded into the foliage and began the descent to the river bank. Again, students needed guidance about how to navigate this slope- anchoring feet against roots and rocks, using tree trunks as support and keeping their weight low. These are all things my own children do as naturally as climbing stairs, but to these urban students it was as foreign as walking on the moon.
The wind was picking up and it suddenly seemed to them a treacherous adventure. Doubt was expressed, the suggestion of turning back- school seemed a safe place by comparison.
Once we were close to the river it took a great deal of time to settle in and get comfortable on the earth. Obstacles included dirt, ants, other potential bugs, mysterious dry leaves, uncomfortable pebbles and rocks, possible wildlife that may appear and threaten, poison ivy and the chance of rain.
When they finally did settle a deep serenity washed over us. The song birds grew loud, the river itself spoke up and the most fearful student put my hand on a thin tree to feel an intermittent vibration she had picked up. We were being changed right there. Quietly writing and sketching, alert to our new environment, we became one with it.
When we stood up to go back I was no longer with eight unsure city dwellers, but instead eight inhabitants of the land. They boldly climbed the bank and once on the path declared it the best day ever, filled with their victory over trepidation and fear.
Back at school we sat on the lawn and listened to each other’s poetry, nodding as we remembered hearing, seeing, feeling just what the poet described. The union with the hill and the river had also formed a union between us. Our shared experience of going to the moon and back was now part of our fabric.
To read more 5th & 6th grade poems click here.