Many of you know that in addition to a writer, photographer, nature lover, and supporter of simple living, I am also an English teacher. Every day I try and teach my students what it means to be moderate, respectful, and kind to themselves and others. Through literature, I can show them that nature can also teach them these things. The material doesn't always align, but sometimes the units coincide perfectly and I take full advantage.
Currently, my American Literature students are exploring works by Transcendentalist and Romantic writers. Just yesterday we read this poignant poem by William Cullen Bryant. In the excerpt below, Bryant praises the nurturing, mothering aspects of nature. The poem is particularly comforting to those who might succumb to depression, boredom, and loneliness, bringing thoughts of nature's constant healing presence to the reader. The poet describes nature's "voice of gladness," and ability to take away the pains of a troubled mind with her "mild and healing sympathy."
To him who in the love of Nature holds
Communion with her visible forms, she speaks
A various language; for his gayer hours
She has a voice of gladness, and a smile
And eloquence of beauty, and she glides
Into his darker musings, with a mild
And healing sympathy, that steals away
Their sharpness, ere he is aware...
In an era inundated with instant gratification, people - especially children - try to find the antidote to boredom, anxiety, disappointment, or sadness in technology. All too quickly they reach for their iPads, computers, or the remote control. Perhaps a tiny remedy can be found there, but it won't be a cure. It will be yet another distraction from an authentic chance to know themselves. Instead, if they go outside and contemplate the natural world, marvel at the change of colors in a tree in the front yard, or simply take their headphones off, they might be able to give their racing minds a chance to relax and recharge. Studies show that even pursuing an "analog" activity, such as coloring, drawing, or writing in a journal would aid their ability to ascertain their true emotions and state of mind. This all applies to adults as well as children.
Why does nature have this healing power? Why does everything get better when we walk down a secluded wooded path at twilight? When we contemplate the natural world, we see the clarity by which we actually exist. We humans are secondary to the cyclical rhythms of the world. We see the flowers emerging from the earth, unfurling skywards, flowering, then falling back asleep until the following year. We see the sunrise every day, and the moon rise at night, regardless of the feelings that accompany our daily, human struggles. The stars will always shine, the birds will continue to sing. As long as we care for it, nature will always be there as a constant comfort, while other aspects of our lives come and go. The essence of nature's healing is in its everlasting recurrence. We can trust in nature because nature always bares herself before us, offering what she can give, regardless of the season. It is through this relationship of trust that we can all - children and adults - come closer to trusting and knowing our true selves.
Go forth, under the open sky, and list
To Nature’s teachings.
-William Cullen Byrant