My mom–God bless her–still puts out my childhood stocking for me on Christmas. She fills it with all sorts of small delights that she knows I’ll appreciate, such as new kitchen scissors, organic chocolate bars, a nice pair of socks, and, always, a book. This year my stocking book was a collection of essays by the American poet Mary Oliver, whose work I admire. In the way that a mom somehow just knows, this book was exactly what I needed.
Mary Oliver writes really heartbreakingly beautifully about very simple human experiences, and she writes often about being in, observing, interacting with nature. Her writing really makes me slow down and recalibrate; it’s hugely rewarding.
Reading these new essays over the past week reminded me of a poem of hers that I think is useful at the beginning of a new year. It’s one I’ve come back to it often over the past several new years.
Instructions for living a life.
Tell about it.
I have in my life made and broken “New Year’s Resolutions” as many years as I’ve been old enough to make resolutions. But the turn of a new year does always feel like a good time to make a change, doesn’t it? This year I’m not going to call it a resolution, but I’m challenging myself to pay more attention, to move a little more purposefully through my days. I think this is the first step toward creating positive changes in our lives, our families lives, our communities and environment as well.
When my family and I moved to Portland a year ago, I was struck by how much ivy I noticed everywhere, smothering the ground and strangling the trees. If I’m out walking somewhere new, I will often stop and spend a few minutes here and there ripping it off trees and away from native shrubs.
Then, a few weeks ago, my dad came over to help us move a fruit tree to a new location in our yard. I brought him around back to show him the tree we needed his help with, and after glancing around for no more than several seconds, he instead headed straight for a few trees at the edge of our yard, ivy crawling high up their trunks, and started hacking the vines away. I stood there and watched, dumbfounded.
Isn’t it strange how we can fail to see what’s right in front of us?
Pay attention, I tell myself.
My hope for all of us this year is that what we notice when we pay attention motivates us to make positive changes for ourselves, our families, our planet. Real changes. Even drastic changes. Maybe for you and your family that means looking into getting an electric vehicle. Or joining Sierra Club or Greenpeace or the Natural Resources Defense Council or the World Wildlife Fund or any number of political or other organizations and getting involved. Or committing to a bike commute. Or removing the ivy from your yard and applying for Backyard Habitat certification. Or participating in an ivy removal or restoration project or tree planting nearby. Or transitioning all your household cleaning supplies to eco-friendly alternatives (I’ve got some DIY resources to share on that in the months to come). Or maybe for you this means forgetting about trying to remember to take your reusable cup with you everywhere and, instead, committing to enjoying that cup of coffee at home every day.
I wish you all much astonishment and much joy this year. I would love if you’d tell me about it!
Yours in sustainability,
(Cadel, 4’s class)