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December 02, 2009


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I completely agreed with you. You said right "It's bigger than just African Americans not visiting national parks. It's a disassociation from the natural world"

Tim Abbott

Ah, Nikky. What reverberations from our flight!

And you also loved Cousteau, my childhood hero. I have a friend, a fellow conservationist who shares that love of ours, and as a boy he wanted to be "Black Cousteau". So there are others, odd children who love when there is reason enough for fear. Not with the heedless love of adrenaline that comes from seeking danger and mastery, but the deeper love of something bigger than ourselves and yet very much a part of us. The way you felt when you saw that first whale, or how I felt among elephants.

I say to myself that what we both experienced in the air should not be as rare as it seems. Like love, these moments of profound connection tend to elude us when we try too hard. I feared nothing about you because I was wide open and, it seems to me now, all at once at ease with you. And so those connections could cascade without having to dodge and feint to overcome our solitude in that close space.

Nikky Finney

Tim, I am the poet on the plane that you referenced two or three posts before this one. I came here tonight, to this most recent post of yours, to find you, my flying-friend and here you are giving great lift and wing to a moment that changed me forever. I am a poet who has just finished her fourth book. Poetry is my first voice. I always wonder will the last book be my last book. So much emotion goes in to each of their making. This next one will leap into the air in September of 2010, Northwestern Press, Chicago. One of our (many) fears as poets is -- what's next? Is there anything left to say to the world. I found the answer to this old question as we flew to Detroit -- strangers who took the chance to peel back skin and safety -- and then to Lexington. I hate the middle seat on a plane. I am the middle child in real life, so, I am always dealing with mediation and peace conferences in my own family. I never want to fly and do the same work in the air as I do on the ground. You probably didn't notice that the man to my left -- aisle -- hardly wanted to sit by me -- but when you and I started to talk like old friends -- he leaned into me as if he had to hear what we were sharing. What a lesson! You feared nothing about me. Not my long knotty ocean of hair. Not my skin color. Not the poetry books in my lap. Your wonder for the world and for simple human conversation has brought you to the world of this blog. It is your curiosity and your diligence and your profound sense of responsibility to simple be present and to participate -- that has brought your words into the galaxy of my words. I have been so fearful these last many days of what is happening to the polar bears, to the penguins, to the wildflower, to the spring water well that no longer runs through my grandmothers 100 acres in Newberry, South Carolina. I have wanted to write something about it. I didn't exactly know how -- and there you -- in MY window seat -- talking about blue whales and how their "pole to pole " conversations had been taken away by the age of propellers." When we disembarked from the plane I started scribbling in the car like a mad woman. I realized in that moment that my newest book had been born. I want to write about the land we are losing. I want to write about how I would not be a poet had it not been for the one hundred acres that I walked through as a girl and found my wonder about the world. This new book project -- which does not yet have a name -- has been born out of our surprise conversation on the plane and out of the conversation that I also heard from the park ranger, Shelton, that you you mentioned here in your blog. I was always the odd child in my community. I was a Black girl from the South who cherished the land -- the rural music of where my ancestors had made a way. I wasn't supposed to love the trees and the rich red soil. But I did. I carried around a guide to dinosaurs in my back pocket for years and years. Before I was a poet I wanted to be a Paleontologist. I knew every dinosaur by name and brain size. Nobody in my community understood why I wanted to study plants from the Mississippian period. Before watching the Ken Burns' series on the National Parks I hadn't thought about why my grandmother, a farming woman, who could plant anything and grow anything -- anywhere -- might be shy about talking about the land she loved. She had seen the hangings. She had witnessed the brutality firsthand. She had been warned all her life not to go out by herself. There was always a personal terror connected to the land -- for Black people -- who had come here in such a violent way. In the middle of the Ken Burns' series I leaned forward like a snail. I broke into a thousand pieces. I got it. Finally -- I understood. I, me personally, could come into the world and love and fight for the beauty of the land and be of people -- who had once been the violent human bloom in so many southern pine trees -- because times do change -- because it is up to us to remember -- and to not accept the fear -- to turn to the stranger on the plane and smile -- and then go home and begin the newest book of poems -- scribbling with all our heart.

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