Archive for 2016

A Tribute to Basho

Wednesday, December 28th, 2016

BashoMatsuo

One of my truly sweet memories from a mostly unhappy year of teaching fourth grade was when I taught my students about a Japanese poet who wrote beautifully about nature.

Basho, the seventeenth century master of haiku, is beloved in Japan still, more than 300 years after he lived.

I had long taken pleasure in Basho’s haikus, these 17-syllable slivers of nature, lovingly and creatively wrought.  But only when I found myself enchanted by the description of him in the fourth grade literature book did it occur to me to share him with my students.

Through tender story-telling and rich illustrations, the lit book portrayed Basho as a kind and gentle soul.  He deeply loved nature and took long sojourns, on foot, all over the Japanese countryside.  And in these woodland wanderings he found inspiration for his poems.

Although Basho did not invent haiku–the three-line poem with five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, and five in the third–it is fair to say that he popularized it.  And in addition to his many nature-themed haikus, Basho also wrote humorous ones, some gently poking fun at himself.

My students responded wonderfully to Basho!  They were fascinated by his peripatetic life, and they delighted in the immediacy of his tiny poems.  We read many of them and talked about how they made us feel, about the pictures they evoked in our minds.  And we had fun writing our own haikus.

I know that much of why I found sharing Basho with my students so rewarding is that I was giving them something I truly love.  And they received it in the same spirit.  Kids can readily tell when their teacher’s enthusiasm for a subject is real, when he or she is coming from the heart.

Recalling this experience from more than a decade ago made me decide to learn more about the nature-loving Basho.  So I was surprised, although I probably shouldn’t have been, to learn that the real Basho’s life was not as ideal as that portrayed in an elementary school literature book!

While Basho was famous and revered in his lifetime, he was often lonely and dissatisfied. A star in fashionable literary circles, he later renounced the social, urban, literary life to live instead as a recluse.  But the solitary life did not make him happy either.

It was after his little hut that some disciples had built for him burned down and his mother died, that Basho decided to take to the road.  This was considered a very dangerous act in medieval Japan.  Basho himself expected to die in the middle of nowhere or to be killed by bandits.

To the poet’s great surprise, the wandering life brightened his mood; his depression lifted.  Basho enjoyed his days spent walking, taking pleasure in the changing scenery and seasons.  His poems took on a less introspective tone, as he observed—and delighted in—the natural world around him.

But historians tell us that Basho never found lasting happiness.  He could never feel at peace with himself and was constantly in the throes of mental turmoil.  At one point, he wrote a friend, “ I am disturbed by others.  I have no peace of mind.”

I was surprised to learn of Basho’s deep discontent.  I wondered if his idealized wanderings were actually attempts to escape his inner torment.  Perhaps like me, and many others, he was able to lose himself in nature, there to live in the moment, not plagued by the worries and obsessions that plagued him at other times.

Here are a few of Basho’s poems.  (note that, in translation, haiku can lose its 5-7-5 structure)

About nature:

A cicada shell;
it sang itself utterly away.

An ancient pond…
a frog leaps in
the splash of water.

A little irreverent:

Bush warbler
shits on the rice cakes
on the porch rail.

A little self-deprecating:

Now then, let’s go out
To enjoy the snow. . . .until
I slip and fall.

Finally, I love this line from Basho’s final work, his masterpiece, THE NARROW ROAD TO THE INTERIOR.  “Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise.  Seek what they sought.”April Moore

 

 

 

 

 

From a Nature Lover’s Broken Heart

Friday, November 18th, 2016
What an amazing sight--the sun coming over the ridge seemed to focus all its illuminating energy on a single dogwood.

What an amazing sight–the sun coming over the ridge seemed to focus all its illuminating energy on a single dogwood.

   

 This morning my daily exercise routine was punctuated by a surge of joy.  

     Looking out the window, I noticed a handful of dried leaves suddenly fly off a little red maple, swirl rapidly around each other, then quickly disperse.

     Moments like this one gladden and feed my heart.  But these nature delights, for me, have their shadow side as well.

     Never far removed from my great pleasure in nature is grief.  How quickly my joyous heart becomes my broken heart.  I grieve that the natural beauty I see from every window of my home is far less healthy than it once was;  I grieve for the many species silently disappearing all around me;  I grieve that we are not acting nearly fast enough to prevent climate change from making my little granddaughters’ future very difficult.

     For me it can be a challenge to let myself feel all of this, both the great joy and the great grief.  But as the poet Stanley Kunitz says, “the heart breaks and breaks, and lives by breaking.”  To be heart-broken is to be truly alive.

      When I think of our efforts to protect the planet, the decades-old saying, “little victories, big defeats” crosses my mind.  We do win victories;  the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act have truly improved the quality of our air and water;  some species, through great effort, have been saved from extinction; and certain pristine lands have been set aside for protection.  

     But meanwhile, we are rapidly losing so much more than we are gaining.  Scientists tell us we are in the Sixth Great Extinction in the earth’s four billion year history.  Species are disappearing at a rate that has been matched only five times before.  Ever.  What’s different this time is that it’ a living creature–namely humans–that are the main cause.  And that’s why scientists have named this period the Anthropocene.  Man has become the main driver of changes in the biosphere.

     And now we are entering a new era, the era of  President Trump.  As frightening and discouraging as it is to hear him vow to scrap the Paris climate accord, to open up all of our public lands to oil and gas drilling, and to undo the federal Clean Power Plan, I am heartened by the determination I see on the part of environmental organizations to work  harder than they ever have to prevent Trump from sacrificing our treasured planet for the short-term greed of the fossil fuel industry. 

     I will continue to let my heart break open to the beauty that surrounds me.  And I will remember the words of Jane Goodall, “there is still a lot left that is worth fighting for.”   We cannot know how successful we will be in saving our planet, but we can never give up on Mother Earth.April Moore 

 

 

 

 

You Are Still Amazing

Thursday, October 20th, 2016

turned tree photo 

   On a recent morning, my forest wanderings drew me to look at a downed tree.  This mighty chestnut oak, who once soared high above the earth, has lain on the forest floor now for quite some time.

    I have seen this dead tree many times.  But this day it was a marvel.  Some fierce wind had once pushed it so hard that its giant root base was ripped right from the earth.  Standing near the broad, tangled, sandy mass of roots, I looked out over the trunk’s length.  On and on it snaked along the ground.  Walking its length was a journey of more than 30 steps.

     Imagine being this tall, thrusting so far away from the ground.  As I bent down and felt the furrowed bark along the tapering trunk, I thought how seldom I am this close to the top of a giant tree.  Typically, I can observe a tree’s top only from far below.  Those top branches are so far away.  And here is the top of the tree, right beside me, so close, resting on the ground. 

      I love the chestnut oaks that dominate the forest near our house, whether standing and flourishing in leafy extravagance, or lying dead on the ground.  Even this tree, the flow of life through its trunk stilled, feeds my spirit.–April Moore

An Ode to Dead Leaves

Saturday, September 24th, 2016

IMG_1110

 

Dry brown leaves
Resting on the forest floor,
Brittle,  thin, lifeless.
Their work is done.

Once they were young,
Fresh, supple, and oh so green,
Open to the sun’s rays
And carrying that sunshine
Straight into the tree,
Bringing the tree exactly what it needs
To live and grow.

And once a leaf’s work is complete,
Its life drains away
And the leaf lets go.
Sever
ed from the tree from which it came,
The
 tree the leaf fed for many months.

Now the leaf lies shriveled and curled,
Lying among its fellows
On the forest floor.

Yet even in death, the leaf gives life,
Each dead leaf returns to the soil,
To support and feed a new tree,
This time from below.-
-April Moore

 

 

 

 

 

The Earth Connection is Back!

Thursday, September 8th, 2016

Greetings, all of you who love our marvelous and endangered planet!

     After a very long ‘silence,’ I have decided to revive THE EARTH CONNECTION.  The last time I posted here was February 2015.  That was when I told readers I was suspending my postings in order to devote myself fully to a run for the Virginia state senate.

     I didn’t win.  Nonetheless, I feel very good about the run I made.  I became a candidate because of my passion about climate change and my desire to find a much bigger platform to sound the alarm in defense of our Mother Earth.  The campaign gave me a marvelous opportunity to do just that.  I made the most of it.   And thanks to messaging help from my husband Andy Schmookler, my message got out there widely and boldly.

     Even though the election was last November, it has taken me this long to be ready to put significant energy into a solitary, creative space like THE EARTH CONNECTION.  Instead, I have been continuing to work, as a board member, with two organizations dedicated, in different ways, to protecting the planet–the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River.

     And now I want to resume publishing THE EARTH CONNECTION.

     I plan to post at least once a month.  I hope you will continue to follow my blog.  And please spread the word if you like what you see here.  Remember, it is free to subscribe to THE EARTH CONNECTION.  By subscribing, you will receive an email to alert you every time there is a new  EARTH CONNECTION posting.  And, of course I do not share THE EARTH CONNECTION’s subscriber list with anyone.

     And one more thing–I am always open to posting other people’s work–poems, photos, narratives, etc.  Thanks!–April Moore

 

 

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