The Peace of Wild Things


Hunter Valley, New South Wales

Sydney, Thursday

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief.  I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light.  For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
                                                           Wendell Berry

I discovered this poem on a grief message board in 2004, a year after my husband died.  I have liked it ever since.  To me it speaks not only of the beauty of nature, but also of the often-elusive goal of living in the moment, trying not to worry, just breathing, and just being.

Trying to Be Positive

Today I thought of this poem for several reasons, mainly because of the horrific bushfires still burning in Australia, and secondarily because one or more of them seem to have been deliberately set by arsonist(s).

I’ve always thought of myself as a positive, glass half-full kind of person.  I try to look for the best in others, and I believe most people are fundamentally good at heart. 

Yet lately I also find myself reading and writing about human beings, or perhaps more accurately, the behaviour of human beings, that is less than perfect.

Of course, no-one is perfect.  Whether observing unwarranted
superiority attitudesreading about racism experienced by the new U.S. President, or seeing news reports of devastating fires set by arsonists, it seems to me it must be admitted humans are not always good at heart, and some human acts cause great harm in the world.

In this context, Wendell Berry’s poem seems very apt to me.  It takes me to a place removed from human worry and harm, a place of peace in nature.  It describes a refuge where one can go, if only mentally, when one’s fears and concerns about the human world seem too much to bear.

But what about when nature itself is wounded?  What about when wild things, like Sam the koala, are suffering too, and are anything but peaceful?

The Good Comes Out

samkoalaWe hear on Australian news that Sam is an international hero, and the Aussie fireman who gave him water is being interviewed on multiple news stations around the globe.

How can the survivors of the Australian fires find respite in nature, when the ground beneath their feet, the bushland around their homes, their homes themselves, and most of all, many of their family and friends, have all been lost?

As mentioned in my earlier post about the bushfires, human goodness in all its forms is operating at full force, with an outpouring of practical, financial, and emotional support for the victims.  Tonight there’s a national telethon to further increase financial donations, which are already in the tens of millions of dollars.

The Only Thing You Have to Do Is Breathe

I don’t know how the bushfire victims can get to Berry’s place of peace in nature.  But I can offer something that helped me in my early months of widowhood.

The best advice I read was on a message board.  It said the only three things you really have to do are: 

1.     Breathe.

2.     Eat – try to eat something healthy every day, or at least drink water.

3.     Pay the most important bills first.  All the rest will be taken care of in due course.  It really will.  For the bushfire victims who lost everything, even this item takes a backseat to finding accommodation and getting back on their feet.

One Breath at a Time

Even in my deepest moments of grief, I don’t think I ever despaired of the world overall.  I believed I would survive, as I believe the bushfire victims will, and that the world and people in it are fundamentally good.

What ‘The Peace of Wild Things’ offers to me is a reminder to try to be in the moment, especially when human events or despair threaten to become overwhelming. 

It reminds us all to just breathe, one breath at a time, and rest in the grace of the world.


Sydney Harbour

3 Responses

  1. Beautiful. You write so well. They have a lot of pain to deal with but I think the whole of Australia has taken them in their arms, That alone fills me with a great deal of hope for our country.

  2. Beautiful poem Carolyn and a wonderful post. The Australian bush fires are so heartbreaking and it does defy belief that they were purposely lit – it is very hard to keep faith in human nature at a time like this. Thank you for stopping by French Essence and I am glad to have found your blog. xv

  3. Thank you, Lilli and Vicki.

    I appreciate your comments and it’s heartwarming to see the tremendous global empathy and support for the Victorian bushfire victims.

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