Nature as Muse: Volunteers Dig into Poetry Writing Workshop

White wild indigo

White wild indigo

The Arboretum recently organized a series of writing workshops for Arboretum volunteers. The series, Mary Oliver and the Fine Art of Mindfulness in Nature, was led by Arboretum team leader and steward Troy Hess, with assistance from Arboretum staff members Marian Farrior and Judy Kingsbury. Troy also runs On the Yahara writing center and he led the participants in a literary examination of Oliver’s poetry and prose, looking at themes of observation as experience, celebration, gratitude, and imagination. Thirteen participants visited the Arboretum, Lakeshore Nature Preserve, and Allen Centennial Gardens, then wrote poetry and prose using Mary Oliver and nature as their muses and the themes as guides. Students read their works aloud and courageously received feedback for revisions. The writers shared their poems with the volunteer coordinators of each place to publish in their volunteer newsletters.

Here are just two of many wonderful poems by Arboretum volunteers.

SANCTUARY, by Miguel Statut

The word and its ancient meaning (a sacred space), weigh heavy on my mind.
With daily news of migrant caravans flowing
south to north,
east to west,
across our planet.
This spring it takes on particular significance
as I enter my own sanctuary – the Arboretum’s Wingra Woods and Curtis Prairie. There are migrants here too of a different kind.
All seeking the same,
a place of refuge,
a time for renewal.
May we all be embraced by these sacred places.


The ash tree shelters the wedding guests
Searing sunlight dapples the celebrants
And weaves into the glow of love, laughter and hope
As generations celebrate the song of today
And the prayer for tomorrow

Leaves gather sunlight as they have for decades
And the promise of survival flows to roots
That spread beneath and among the generations
Rustling leaves whisper to the joyous young couple,
Offering a message:

Find a place in the sun to spread your roots
Allow branches to follow unexpected paths
Stand for the wind that tears with fury,
And gently spreads pollen in the song of survival.
Bend with its rhythm and grow strong and free

Welcome squirrels that capture your seeds,
And sow them in wombs of rich earth
Shelter nestlings as birds share their lyrical song
Rejoice in the harmony of the sun and the rain
Find grace in the natural rhythms
Join, full voiced, the chorus of nature