The other morning, I visited my bookshelf looking for Mary Oliver.
I missed her.
I often searched for her when I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) find my own way to nature—to gain perspective and inner peace. Ms. Oliver would take me there herself, through her words and with her clarity of vision and lyrical descriptions.
Her words found solace, beauty, and wisdom in nature. I found these same things in her.
Most memorably, I found solace, along with so many others, in her poem “Wild Geese”:
“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”
And now, one year since her passing from this world, missing her means remembering her well.
Ms. Oliver was a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who received numerous awards. She died on January 17, 2019, at her home in Hobe Sound, Florida, from lymphoma. She was 83.
She was born in a small town in Ohio, and spent much of her childhood exploring forests near her home while she wrote in her notebooks. The literary world often described her as having “the profound gift of paying attention.”
I didn’t know Ms. Oliver personally, although, I did know that she preferred the company of dogs to people. And this was the reason I picked up Dog Songs, as it was a celebration of the special bond between human and dog. She often wrote about her everyday moments with her own canines, and extended her observations to the world. Being a dog lover myself, I gobbled this all up.
I’d like to think Ms. Oliver would have found my bookshelf search for A Thousands Mornings and Dog Songs amusing. After some dusty thumb-to-book tapping, I found the first book on the second shelf—standing proudly next to The Holy Bible (King James Version). The second book, located on the bottom shelf, was found under David Busch’s Nikon D3100 Digital SLR Photography manual.
With books in hand, I sat back on my bottom and smiled softly.
How curious were their locations on my bookshelf—so defining of who she was. Although she was not a religious person, per se, she did find God in nature. And often, on early mornings, with pen in the air, she took pictures of the world outside, before turning them into prose we could see as well.
Here are words by Ms. Oliver that help me remember her amazing literary contributions:
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life.”
“Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”
“Listen—are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?”
“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”
“Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.”
“Hello, sun in my face. Hello you who made the morning and spread it over the fields…Watch, now, how I start the day in happiness, in kindness.”
“The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.”
“Ordinarily, I go to the woods alone,
with not a single
friend, for they are all smilers and
talkers and therefore
I don’t really want to be witnessed
talking to the catbirds
or hugging the old black oak tree. I
have my way of
praying, as you no doubt have yours.
Besides, when I am alone I can
become invisible. I can sit
on the top of a dune as motionless as
an uprise of weeds,
until the foxes run by unconcerned. I
can hear the almost
unhearable sound of the roses singing.
If you have ever gone to the woods
with me, I must love
you very much.”
“I tell you this
to break your heart,
by which I mean only
that it break open and never close
to the rest of the world.”
“Sometimes I need
only to stand
wherever I am
to be blessed.”
“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”
“Snow was falling,
so much like stars
filling the dark trees
that one could easily imagine
its reason for being was nothing more
“Love yourself. Then forget it.
Then, love the world.”