Today is the anniversary of the creation of Yellowstone National Park. Established on March 1, 1872, Yellowstone was the first national park in the world, a place set aside as a public park…for the benefit and enjoyment of the people (wording from The Yellowstone National Park Protection Act).
In thinking about this place, a place I visited both as child and adult, I remember the way Yellowstone grabbed me by both shoulders with its magnificence. Mountains. Gorges. Rivers. Elk. Bears. Moose. Geysers. Eagles. Bison. Lodgepole pines. I remember taking pictures, but found it difficult to capture what I saw. So much was missing from those photos – the smells, the sounds, the feel of the air. The best they could do was offer a nudge to go there in person, see what the place evoked, and let it reach a person’s heart.
Yellowstone, and other wild places I’ve visited, show up in my poetry. Experiences hiking and lingering along a stream, watching Old Faithful shoot out a violent column of steam, or coming upon a moose with her calf are all images ripe for use. And I’ve learned that, for me, the need to unplug and go where I intentionally disconnect from social media is an absolute necessity to keep my poetry skills sharp. That’s when I observe without making comment, and when I take things in without someone else’s comments popping up in front of me.
And I’ve learned from talking with my poetry colleagues that they, too, value the way time in a wild place informs their work, shifts their perspective, makes daily stresses fall away to make room for the creative process. Wild places are the antidote we all need when we can’t take in one more bit of news.
So today, Yellowstone’s birthday, is a perfect day to head out wearing your hiking shoes, try your hand at poetry that honors wild places. A national park is a great place to start, but if you don’t live near one, find another wild place. A state park, a wildlife reserve, a path along a river that cuts through your town. Any green space set aside for the people. Poetry, too, is there for the people. Bringing the wild and the poet together is a perfect match.
One more thing. If you’re interested in poetry specifically related to national parks, the Academy of American Poets commissioned 50 poets to write poems about national parks in all 50 states to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in 2016. You can see the list of 50 poems HERE.