Finding Eden (snake, weeds, and all) in Our Own Back Yards

Finding Eden (snake, weeds, and all) in Our Own Back Yards: The Poetry of Community Garden: Earth Day, John Muir’s Birth Day, lots of robust Muir poetry with notes of Milton, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, William Cullen Bryant, Gilgamesh, and our contemporary earth justice and love kin to Muir, Denise Levertov and Gary Snyder, and Mary Oliver’s Sunflowers, and Gerard Manley Hopkins, Theodore Roethke, and –is there a better testimony for love of earth—Stanley Kunitz. Oh! And on this note—perhaps the wisest of all, A.A. Milne, on the power of humility in engaging earth, weeds as flowers we don’t know yet

. . .

Our music ranges from Straus waltzes from The Vienna Woods, to the Shins’ “O Inverted Earth,” the happy wanderer song (sing along with me), to “we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden”—and we do. Perhaps poetry is the garden of our mind, a way to figure out in this early journey of ours how and why we belong to each other and our earth.


What is at stake for earth in our ability to see something that grows as useful and good and nutritious, and not as the enemy? Across scale—whole wilderness forests and glaciers, a lithe blade? What is it about “garden” that makes evil of rabbits and squirrels, flowers and shrubs, ivies and vines that twine and twist, moths and flies, worms and every matter of crawling thing, attaching thing, and how can we make of a garden a sanctuary, a place of solace and hope and joy in the revelation of what is possible of earth; in what ways is a poem such a garden of our minds, a place of safety where yet the wild can happen and be welcomed, in the message of what we have to tell each other, about what it is and how it is and why it is to live on this earth, as part of what this earth does grow: our wild useful selves.

We begin with a tribute to John Muir:

Welcome to our Poetry Slow Down, KRXA 540AM, Think for yourself radio, produced by Sara Hughes, I’m your host Professor Barbara Mossberg, and it’s

Earth Day and John Muir’s birthday. Coincidence? No way! Rambling and almost rambunctious, a wide-eyed wanderer, admiring adventurer, gazing and dazed and dazzled, serious to the point of rectitude, a holy seer of sacred place, an amateur of a writer, striving to do justice to the gift of consciousness. For him, earth a birthday present; for him, the present is presence.


What writer brings to consciousness earth in such an epic way that, in reading his lyric prose, we want to stand up for trees, sing their praises, go to bat for them. We can weep for their plight being skinned alive, or rejoice in their joy in a windstorm. Reading his lyric prose on the Sierras, we vote for preservation, restoration, ressurrection of earth itself. We think of earth differently, as happy, as happy-making, as, in e.e. cummings’ birth-day poem words, “the gay great happening illimitably earth.”


John Muir is one of the most exuberant, exhilarated, enthusiastic earth-lovers, earth-celebrators who ever lived. He was shamelessly a lover of earth. His love was romantic, loyal, heroic, utterly sensual. My children used to tease me, on my fear of heights, keeping me from climbing Half Dome: “I bet if John Muir were up there you would go.” I told them, even if Muir were my contemporary and I were not already enthralled with my own Swedish squeeze, Muir would never give me a second look even if I scaled Half Dome right up its face: “to get his attention, you’d have to wear bark.” If you had anything about you like moss, I told them, or lichen, or fur, or cone, or stamen, or petal, or root, or glacial polish, he would love you, passionately. He would caress you. He would serenade you. He would sketch you. He would squat and behold you for ten hours. He would leap up and shout for you: “the glory!” He would lie down on top of pine needles and just breathe your essence, totally in love. Away from you, he would pine. Away from you too long, his spirit would shrivel. He might die. (His wife once sent him away, back to his beloved mountains, fear for his life if he stayed away longer.) His letters about earth are love letters.

Muir’s our earth correspondent, starry-eyed and mud-in-your-eye, and it’s all glorious, and we’ll hear about the Sierra Club and Restore Hetch Hetchy (check out, so join me for an hour of slowing down with poetry, and write me at, or check out our facebook Barbara Mossberg’s Poetry Slow Down– I would love to hear from you.

Sincerely, Professor Mossberg

© Barbara Mossberg 2013

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