5 Simple Ways to Deepen your Hiking Experience with Poetry

Consider why you feel a need to tramp through often harsh, uncomfortable trails to the wild places of the world. Essentially, this motivation can be boiled down to a need to connect with nature, and a need to connect with yourself. Writing poetry is one of the oldest, most tried-and-true methods of fostering a more meaningful relationship with the natural world. The natural world and poetry are so associated with one another that it can be a challenge to find a poem that doesn’t bring up, in some form or another, the woods, water, plants, animals, the sky, or some variation within these. Judging from poetry’s preoccupation with this green earth, there must be an element intrinsic to poetry’s form and purpose that predisposes it towards a deeper understanding of the wide world outside our offices and houses. Where other forms of art can only scratch the surface, poetry can plumb the depths of nature and still retain nature’s mysteries. And because of this, both writing and reading poetry deepens our experience of nature and helps us connect to the outside world and ourselves more meaningfully. Reading poetry is one of the more direct ways to plug in and connect to the mountains and forests that you hike through. For some of the best poets to read while on the trail, scroll to the bottom of the page.

“Sleeping in the Forest” by Mary Oliver

I thought the earth remembered me,
she took me back so tenderly,
arranging her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds.
I slept as never before, a stone on the river bed,
nothing between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated as light as moths
among the branches of the perfect trees.
All night I rose and fell, as if in water,
grappling with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.

In a move away from just reading poetry, writing your own poetry is another often overlooked way to deepen your hiking experience. You don’t have to be a poet laureate to glean the personal benefits of writing poetry. Rather, the time spent creating a poem on the trail enriches your soul and is good for your mind, regardless of how “good” a poem is! Some of the best poetry is written only for the poet, and so you can do away with the feeling of pressure that’s still hanging around from your high school English classes. Here are five simple and meaningful ways to deepen your hiking experience through writing your own nature poetry on the trail. Grab a pen, a small notebook, your torn up hiking boots, and head out into what John Muir described as “This grand show” of the natural world.

  1. Hit the trails! Poetry is best done when hiking alone or with someone with whom you can be quiet. You don’t necessarily need a deserted trail (which aren’t the best trails to do alone, in any case), but you do need to have a time and a place to observe and be more still. Maybe plan your hike around a beautiful overlook as your end goal. Any place where you can just sit and observe is ideal.
  2. Don’t judge yourself. Judgmentalism kills creativity. Bring a pen instead of a pencil to keep yourself from erasing anything, and rather than erasing, just keep writing. Write whatever comes to your mind first, and then keep going. The route from your mind to your pen should be crystal clear with no mental roadblocks. You can always revise later! While on the trail, just focus on writing something.

    “Fall Falling” by Ilan Shamir

    Red orange yellow
    Remembering green

    Once securely attached
    Frivolously free

    Floating twirling
    Dancing to the earth

    Stores and storied sunlight
    Resting in sweet celebration

  3. Use all of your senses. Start with your eyes. Focus only on what you can see. What colors, patterns, shapes, expressions, and tiny dramas are being played out in front of you? Next, close your eyes and focus on only what you can hear. Try to close off each of your other senses when you are focusing on the one. What can you smell? What can you touch? After each observation, write down your observations in any way that seems natural to you. There are times when the most significant meaning is simply an observation of something otherwise unobserved.
  4. Connect your observations to each other. What do they have in common? What seems dissonant? Can you notice any patterns? Consider structuring your poem from the patterns you observe around you, right where you are!
  5. Find a theme (or not). From the connections between your observations, look for an underlying meaning that comes from them. However, don’t feel tied down by a theme. Your theme could be as anti-thematic as nature’s inability to have a theme or as simple as the pure beauty of a sunset. This should feel natural and not forced. And remember that poetry is a process, not a destination. You might never feel like your poems are completed! But like you and the natural world, your poetry is a work in progress. The end goal isn’t a perfect poem, anyway, but is a deeper personal connection to nature and ultimately to yourself.

Happy writing and hiking!

Poetry writing tips are from Your True Nature’s Writing Master Plan, which is a part of our free, K-12 teachers curriculum. The three Master Plans—Writing, Character, and Environmental Education—are developed by professional educators and available at http://yourtruenature.com/teach to Your True Nature Members for use at home and in the classroom.

Poetry to get you started:
Mary Oliver ……….“Sleeping in the Forest” ; “Wild Geese” ; “Morning Poem”
Robert Hass ….. …..“The Woods in New Jersey” ; “Meditation at Lagunitas” ; “The Apple Trees At Olema”
Gary Snyder………. “this poem is for deer” ; “three deer one coyote running in the snow” ; “pine tree tops”
Robert Frost……….“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” ; “Nothing Gold Can Stay” ; “A Late Walk”
Walt Whitman..………“Give me the Splendid, Silent Sun” ; “Song of Myself