“Poetry is a deal of joy and pain and wonder, with a dash of the dictionary.” ~ Khalil Gibran.
I don’t remember the first poem I ever learned although I’m sure it was a ‘nursery rhyme’. One of my aunts gave me a book of poetry when I was quite young. It was entitled ‘The Littlest one, his book’ and all of the poems were written from the viewpoint (and in the language) of a child. I dipped in and out of the book, relating to some, and not quite understanding others. But poems have a way of pulling you in, of making you think, of tickling your tongue with alliterations, of startling you with a clash of consonants, of soothing you with rhythm and rhyme.
Last weekend I was privileged to hang out in the Everglades with a diverse group of nature and art lovers. For those who have never been, the Everglades is one of a kind, the evidence of how South Florida was before man trampled all over it and developed it to near death. It is a place of wide open spaces and subtle changes of topography, geology and biology. For the first time I listened to a Park Ranger explain the science behind the relationship between the alligator and the land (did you know that alligators act like bulldozers, clearing out the channels in the sawgrass?). Because the Ranger was speaking to a crowd of nature/art lovers, he acknowledged that as a scientist he had not recognized his emotional connection to the place until a visitor mentioned how she felt her grandfather’s presence in the park. It was only then that the Ranger realized that his work in the park could be traced back to his childhood adventures with his father.
I have been visiting the Everglades since my first year in Miami (1978). I am reminded of trips I have taken with friends, with visiting family, with my kids and grandkids, so I too have an emotional connection with the park. But on Sunday it was the call of my celebrated author and outdoor activist friend that got me there once more. It is hard to describe Audrey Peterman in just a few words, but she and her husband and best friend Frank work tirelessly to defend National Parks, to introduce a diverse audience to the benefits of the parks, and to speak out about environmental issues. She is being recognized this year with the National Park Conservation Centennial Leadership Award for her work as an influential park advocate.
To know Audrey is to be amazed by her capacity for joy, for love, for her sheer fabulousness. But what was awesome was to see the intersectionality of her life and interests that cross generations, races and cultures. The Everglades has an amazing program for artists. It is entitled the ‘Artist in Residence in the Everglades (AIRIE), and they invite selected artists to come and spend a few weeks in the park both to be inspired and to inspire. On Sunday one of the artists in residence, Arsimmer McCoy gave a performance of her spoken word, her poetry, and (like all good poets) provoked us, tantalized us, and wowed us. She was accompanied by another talented young woman (and I have to apologize, I did not catch her last name) Portia, on double bass.
But quite apart from the beauty of the surroundings, the appreciation of the poetry and music, what was striking was the synchronicity of the moment. Audrey had worked, some thirty years before, with the grandmother of the poet. Leola McCoy worked tirelessly to get the Wingate Superfund landfill site cleaned up. She was an advocate for the health of her community, after it became obvious how damaging the toxic dump was, as the neighborhood was hit with high cancer rates, still-births and more. Another powerful Black woman who dedicated her life to fighting for a cause, the Everglades had brought her granddaughter full circle to meet her friend and co-activist.
There is much that is wrong with this world. There are many distractions and disruptions to make us doubt whether we will survive as a species, whether the earth itself will survive man’s destructive tendencies. And then there are powerful, fabulous women who wow you with their determination and drive, and make you wonder what you are doing with your life!
Every time I am introduced to an exceptional person, I wonder how I never heard of them before. It is so encouraging to know that there are untold stories, countless people who are doing amazing things with or without recognition. I once heard the husband of my best friend give a speech, and he said he had always felt that when given the opportunity he should always teach the audience something that they didn’t know. It is wonderful to be given such opportunities, to help to teach, inspire, or merely inform.
On this quiet Friday morning, I celebrate all of the wonderful people who have toiled for a cause bigger than them. I hope I can continue to bear witness for some of them, to remind us all that we are connected. To all of my poet friends, please don’t stop writing! And please go out and visit our National Parks, they all have a story to tell.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!