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Celebrating National Poetry Month: Part 2

April 11, 2022
A student sits on a stone wall in a garden.

Photo: Catherine Staples

Villanova’s Nature Writing Workshop takes place almost exclusively out of doors. Last  fall, students read and wrote their way through the gardens, meadows, and woods of Stoneleigh: a natural garden. Over the next few weeks, in honor of National Poetry Month, this blog will feature student work from Nature Writing Workshop 2021.

Bella Irwin. Class of 2024. Major in Peace and Justice, Minor in Criminology.

We had just read Tracy K. Smith’s “Hill Country” and were sitting on the edge of the driveway looking out over the garden, hoping to see a few goldfinches; at the same time we were conscious of the traffic.

Anthropocene

The garden harbored nothing and everything.

The frantically decaying stalks called out in shades of paling green and yellow.

There was a furious tremble, birds and bees scattered- the end of an epoch was upon us.

The grass was slowly dying, the color and vivacity of their lives flickering, dimming to a close.

We administered the poison generously.

The garden harbored nothing and everything.

Nothing alive, everything wrong.

Nothing of substance, of fruitful biodiversity

Everything corrupt, of human atrocity.

Of greed that plunders, plows, and puts to death

That stamps out great life forms,

Life forms older than us:

The sources of our being- the air we breathe, the nutrients we consume, the sustenance we depend on.

Pillars of the natural world, our world.

A world we share, though we often forget.

We group and classify and define and confine

this world into boxes and contorted shapes and narrow molds meant to establish our own

Importance, superiority: assuring us of ourselves.

In doing so, we leave gardens in our wake

Harboring nothing and everything-

Nothing that was and everything that shouldn’t be.

Ciara Coulter, Villanova College of Engineering, Class 2024; Chemical Engineering Major, English Minor

This was my first prose assignment for my Nature Writing class; we were asked to synthesize an aspect of the world around us through a creation story.

This piece was inspired by a specific location in Stoneleigh. Beyond the large green clearing in the leftmost corner of the property, the one abutting other owned lands, there is a grove of white pines. They are incredibly beautiful and supremely tall, and I was struck by how soldier-like they were in stature and uniformity. Beneath them lies no brush save for a massive carpet of ferns far below. I began to ponder: why was there so little middle growth? What might the relationship between these two plants be? Quite taken by this scene, I explored one whimsical possibility with the story below. 

There is a Grove of White Pines

Small and sleepy, the first among plants grew under starlight. Like nightcrawlers, they sprawled across the earth, a dense carpet, soft and muffled. In a dreamlike daze, they whispered to one another, roots hugging and tendrils swaying, dancing ever so slightly. Their spectral chorus called to every plant, uniting them, sustaining them in song. In their stupor they swam, but something lurked beneath their soft, unchanging hymns. Restlessness. And then the deep night sky started to brighten.

One lone star began to grow, to bolden amongst a sea of speckled sky.

He lit up the world in an arcing clap that stung the cheeks of every budding creature, leaving them clinging to the damp earth and trembling under his blazing might. Though surprise rippled through their ranks, there was no fear, only awe. And awareness. The drooping fern lifted his head, risen from his trance. He felt warmth creep into his waif-like arms, and he began to sway with a fervor never seen before, in joy, in thanks, in realization. Barely-budded blooms stretched out their dainty fingers towards the brilliant beams running abound in their valley, hesitantly at first, then hungrily, desperately.  Stems stood erect, like soldiers brought to attention. Slowly but surely, each being roused from their peaceful slumber to a warm drink of sunlight, the golden nectar coursing through languorous vessels.

A taste of this celestial gift quickly became coveted. Each and every sprout began to grapple for their own sun-soaked spot, flailing their flimsy stems towards the sky. As their little leaves grew, so did their contempt. They pushed and shoved, their song, at first strengthened by the heavenly beams, now fallen out of harmony. Anger never known to such peaceful beings worked its way into their roots, their ends curled up away from one another, weakened. And so each day went. The feuds, the strife, the weakness, the sun unwaveringly planted on his stellar throne. Until the life-giving light began to burn. It tore into the veins of the delicate plants, stealing the rivers and streams that ran through them, bleeding them until their stems could scarcely stand. Left parched, they were unable to speak, to even wail in agony. The world was plunged into oppressive silence.

No roots had been left hugging. No being could save another, could share their resources. What each had left, they began to hoard. Delicate flowers that had once opened up as an offering of thanksgiving to the mighty sun shriveled and fell to the ground, stiff and lifeless against the baked earth. Stems withered away from the ceaseless burn, but there was nowhere to hide. Neighbors were stingy and distrustful. This lovely gift of light began to eat away at the world.

A single sapling, borne from the soil just before the Great Light, found her fledgling form already failing. The family from which she was formed and nurtured and loved grew apart, fearing even each other. In utter despair, she began to cry. In great droves, her sobs rocked the earth, such a little frame sending shockwaves through the soil. From some deep spring long hidden below, her tears poured forth. It was the first sound in a long time, and all the other plants pricked their ears and lifted their weary heads towards the disturbance. Though they had long been lethargic and resigned to their anguish, a song welled in each of their chests, not yet sung but on the verge of every leafy lip: hope. They swarmed around this small leaflet, taking in her water, sucking into their first breath to break a soundless world. Harmonious and songful once more, they knew they could not endure in the same way as before. Emboldened by this fragile child, they grew into a murmur, then a hum, then a buzz, a chorus, an orchestra, a shout! They held on tightly to one another, growing in strength with each linked leaf. A surge of energy, of unity, ran towards the small sapling, pooling in her roots. She alone had strength when all else did not, had bravery when all else cowered.

And so, they built her up to be even stronger. They gifted their reserves until their little limbs gave out, growing hers exponentially. They laden her with armor, stiff and brown, mighty like the sun. She shot up into the blazing sky like no plant before her, so that the heavens were nearly in reach. The shrubs beneath her sighed in awe at a new mother, more forgiving than the parching sun: the tree. And so Tree, with a stance tall enough to scrape the sky and a voice loud enough to shake it, began to bargain. She pleaded with the sun to show mercy toward the earth. Tall and proud, she sought balance to return to life. The glowing sun, unaware of their struggle and so astonished by the miraculous journey of the little sapling, agreed to relent. He stepped off his sultry throne and retreated towards the horizon, spiraling into deep reds and pinks and purples, a glorious display of newfound love for his little subjects. And with a tremendous wink, he left the sky, plunging the world into the darkness it had known so intimately before. The plants drifted sweetly back into their trances, resting, rejuvenating.

But all had changed, for the Sun returned in the same blazing glory, with those same pinks and purples and gold streaming from the spot where the sun meets the sky, a gesture of goodwill. Now the plants yawn and stretch in the golden morning, sparkling with teardrops of dew. No longer are they tears of despair, but ones of joy, of daily celebration for renewal. The sprouts wrap their swinging branches around one another in brotherly jubilation, and the song of the forest exalts to what lies above. As the new day came to a close, the great white star, the finest bloom in the sky, would slip away, ushering in peaceful sleep. Day and night, as promised to the Tree, were finally in balance.

Though a deal had been struck, Tree did not return to the earth. Instead, she continued to grow, and year after year, ring after ring, she fanned out against the sky like a great bird. She protected the delicate underbrush that lurked beneath her from the harshness of the Sun, giving them just the touch of warmth they crave in little dapples of lights splintered by her many branches. Others bravely shot up to join the Tree, creating an army of warriors towards the sky and guardians towards the earth. The underbelly of the world now sits shyly beneath each tree, gathered like children at the foot of their oaken mother, relishing in the shade. Though small and lowly, they too come to protect, to guard little ones beneath their willowy leaves, by way of the Tree’s example. Tiny ladybugs making a home, a rabbit taking refuge from predators above, hopeful little seeds straining to poke their delicate heads above the soil. Thousands of little generations find life beneath the Trees. A canopy of stars gives way to a canopy of green each day, and the plants shout their thanks to the sky. Each time the wind stirs these children, they dance with pleasure at their fortune, waving adoringly at their stoic protectors. Their leaves shake, their flowers quiver and smile, their voices hum at an octave man can just barely perceive, lest he stop and listen with all the might and passion of that first sapling.

Part 3

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