The Peace of Wild Things (and Places)

Sunrise in Voyageurs National Park.

Wendell Berry’s poems, fiction, and non-fiction have been a near-constant companion on the road.  As some of you who have read earlier posts know, we started this trip with the goal of restoring body and spirit in some of the country’s most beautiful places. There are few authors who better speak to that desire than Mr. Berry.

As an example, here’s a short poem that I used to read in the urban jungles of Beijing.  It may have single-handedly brought us back to the American wild.

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me

And I wake in the night at the least sound

In fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

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Ode to the late-waking hiker

Mammoth Cave Campground, abandoned at 8 am.

Jen and I are night-people.  I’d like to say that we were night-people, because we sort of assumed that once we were rested and recovered, we’d be rising with the sun every morning.  That hasn’t happened–we’ve kept our nocturnal circadian rhythm here on the road.  You may have noticed that nearly all of our pictures are sunsets.  It’s not a coincidence.

While there’s nothing necessarily wrong with waking up late, we’ve noticed that our fellow campers tend to be the opposite.  I’ve stepped outside our trailer many times to find most of our neighbors gone by 8 am.

The fact that this has happened not just once, but on a regular basis, has sown some seeds of self-doubt.  Like any normal person, I’m attempting to deal with that guilt by writing a poem.  The first verse (or the last?) is below.  Any constructive criticism of the poem–or our sleep habits–is appreciated.

Me and my guilt in some natural hot springs in Big Bend

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Why Peace? Why Parks?

North Kaibab Trail on the Grand Canyon. Does the path to peace go through here?

Peace has been hard to come by, of late.

When J and I began making plans to spend a year in the national parks, it was in part because we needed a respite from the work we had been doing in Asia. Our partners were justice-minded lawyers, non-profits, and academics who have been under incredible, intensifying pressure, as countries around the world have begun to reject the international human rights framework or, at least, any role for foreign governments, non-profits, and other do-gooders in it.

We needed to get out of the haze in Beijing, literally, and reassess the way we had been doing our work, and perhaps living our lives.

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