Friday, October 19, 2012

On birds and science communication

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

~ Mary Oliver ~

I heard Mary Oliver on NPR today, and was reminded of how much inspiration I find in her poetry. I have loved her poem Wild Geese ever since reading it on the wall of our English classroom my first year out of college, teaching in North Carolina. From childhood, I was captivated by the flocks of migrating Canada geese that flew over our Massachusetts home every fall and spring, stopped dead in my tracks to crane my neck and listen to their disorganized honking. I had a similar experience when first reading this poem, stopped in my tracks in the classroom, drinking in the words and images, so vivid I could once again hear the honking of the migrating birds.

Mary Oliver is a poet and naturalist, or perhaps a naturalist and poet. It’s hard to tell which comes first, she blends ideas about nature so seamlessly into her writing. Darting foxes and inquisitive weasels wend their way through her poems, and she brings the natural world into sharp and beautiful focus, so that I feel as though I can almost smell the morning dew better than if I were out on a hike myself. There is a genius to the way in which she uses so few words to inspire new thoughts and feelings about nature. And this is the power of art.

We need to find a way to harness the power of words and art better when we communicate our scientific research to the public. There is a place for peer-reviewed journal articles, but there also needs to be a bridge to bring that information to the public, one that is as evocative as this poem, that can play to people’s emotions as well as their intellect. A step between the scientific journal and the boiled down New York Times Article. And one that can lend all animals and plants the charisma of baby polar bears.

As Oliver says, a poem should have birds in it. Our science communication could use some birds as well.  

1 comment:

  1. That's so beautiful! I love it! Thanks for sharing :)