I am a strong believer in the necessity for rooting deep in the place we actually inhabit, no matter how long we’re in it for. It’s just as necessary if you plan to be there for a year as it is if you plan to stay a lifetime. Partly, because it shows respect for this place which is nurturing us right here and now, whether it is the place we dream of and long for or not. Our places deserve nothing less of us.

But partly, also, because I struggle with the idea that merely visiting a place, no matter how beautiful, no matter how much we might love going there, adds anything very profound to our sense of belonging to this wide world. And so in all my workshops and retreats and courses I encourage people to do this: learn to know, and to love (yes, no matter how hard you think it might be) the place where your foot first falls when you step out of the door. Know the place where your feet are. A dose of weekend ‘nature therapy’, a week of ‘nature tourism’, a day trip to the hills or the woods, is no substitute for this.

And so I was delighted to come across this poem by Mary Oliver, expressing her own doubts about the wisdom of a ‘green visit’ compared to ‘the slow and difficult trick of living, and finding it where you are.’

Going to Walden

It isn’t very far as highways lie.
I might be back by nightfall, having seen
The rough pines, and the stones, and the clear water.
Friends argue that I might be wiser for it.
They do not hear that far-off Yankee whisper:
How dull we grow from hurrying here and there!
Many have gone, and think me half a fool
To miss a day away in the cool country.
Maybe. But in a book I read and cherish,
Going to Walden is not so easy a thing
As a green visit. It is the slow and difficult
Trick of living, and finding it where you are.

Mary Oliver

 

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