On Wednesday morning of our first week of pandemic-induced remote learning, stress was already running high.  In an effort to escape log-in requests and password reminders and reading instructions and devicsara-kurfess-ltE8bDLjX9E-unsplashe distribution and chat patrol, I slipped out our back door and descended the steps to the back yard.  I marched up the green hillside and stood with my face to the sun, welcoming its energy and warmth.  My senses took in the signs of life all over our yard.  Each new breath felt downright medicinal.

As I strolled around the perimeter of our property, I felt Alive—with a capital “A”—and my mind seemed to respond accordingly with fresh thoughts, new perspective, and creative impulses.  Spring called to me, and I lamented the amount of time we’ve been forced to spend indoors.  Of course, I’m not the only one to feel this way.  Not only are countless friends and neighbors feeling stifled from being homebound, authors and writers throughout history have  viewed the natural world as a portal for creativity.  Author and poet Mary Oliver writes, “…the natural world has always been the great warehouse of symbolic imagery…. Certainly imagery can be gleaned from the industrial world…. But the natural world is the old river that runs through everything, and I think poets will forever fish along its shores.”[1]

Famous authors like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein found similar inspiration through nature.  Philip and Carol Zaleski write of Lewis’s affinity for the natural world in their book The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: “…Lewis was at his best out of doors, preferably at a distance from home and college.  [Lewis and his friend Nevill Coghill] met regularly for country rambles, bounding from one hill and one idea to another as they talked for hours on end.”[2]  Anyone who has encountered Narnia through the imagery of C.S. Lewis has come to see the role of creation in Lewis’s work.  Similarly, Tolkein’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings are riddled with descriptions of the natural world.  Could one imagine the Shire without having taken long walks in the woods? Or create Lothlórien without having examined forest trees?  I recently read the first book in Tolkein’s trilogy, The Fellowship, and was struck by the elaborate descriptions of trees and flowers and flowing streams throughout its pages.  Surely the world of Middle-earth could not exist in the mind of a man who never explored his own world out of doors—one wouldn’t even have the vocabulary to describe it.

With such convincing examples of the natural world’s role in bolstering creativity, perhaps we should fight to step into the backyard sunshine more often or trek around our neighborhoods for an invigorating stroll.  While our options may be limited right now, most of us can still enjoy the outdoors to some extent.  I don’t want to forget the language of the birds because I’ve cut myself off from the sky—or grow so accustomed to central heating and air that I forget how to describe the wind.  If creation nurtures creativity, I want to go outside.

[1] Mary Oliver. A Poetry Handbook. p. 106. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1994.

[2] Philip and Carol Zaleski. The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings. p. 151. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015.


Feature Image Photo by niko photos on Unsplash

Sunshine Image Photo by Sara Kurfeß on Unsplash

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