7 Ways Meditation Can Actually Change The Brain


Meditation Helps Preserve the Aging Brain

Last week, a study from UCLA found that long-term meditators had better-preserved brains than non-meditators as they aged. Participants who’d been meditating for an average of 20 years had more grey matter volume throughout the brain — although older meditators still had some volume loss compared to younger meditators, it wasn’t as pronounced as the non-meditators. “We expected rather small and distinct effects located in some of the regions that had previously been associated with meditating,” said study author Florian Kurth. “Instead, what we actually observed was a widespread effect of meditation that encompassed regions throughout the entire brain.”

Meditation Reduces Activity in the Brain’s “Me Center”

One of the most interesting studies in the last few years, carried out at Yale University, found that mindfulness meditation decreases activity in the default mode network (DMN), the brain network responsible for mind-wandering and self-referential thoughts – a.k.a., “monkey mind.” The DMN is “on” or active when we’re not thinking about anything in particular, when our minds are just wandering from thought to thought. Since mind-wandering is typically associated with being less happy, ruminating, and worrying about the past and future, it’s the goal for many people to dial it down. Several studies have shown that meditation, though its quieting effect on the DMN, appears to do just this. And even when the mind does start to wander, because of the new connections that form, meditators are better at snapping back out of it.


Its Effects Rival Antidepressants for Depression, Anxiety

A review study last year at Johns Hopkins looked at the relationship between mindfulness meditation and its ability to reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and pain. Researcher Madhav Goyal and his team found that the effect size of meditation was moderate, at 0.3. If this sounds low, keep in mind that the effect size for antidepressants is also 0.3, which makes the effect of meditation sound pretty good. Meditation is, after all an active form of brain training. “A lot of people have this idea that meditation means sitting down and doing nothing,” says Goyal. “But that’s not true. Meditation is an active training of the mind to increase awareness, and different meditation programs approach this in different ways.” Meditation isn’t a magic bullet for depression, as no treatment is, but it’s one of the tools that may help manage symptoms.


Meditation May Lead to Volume Changes in Key Areas of the Brain

In 2011, Sara Lazar and her team at Harvard found that mindfulness meditation can actually change the structure of the brain: Eight weeks of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) was found to increase cortical thickness in the hippocampus, which governs learning and memory, and in certain areas of the brain that play roles in emotion regulation and self-referential processing. There were also decreases in brain cell volume in the amygdala, which is responsible for fear, anxiety, and stress – and these changes matched the participants’ self-reports of their stress levels, indicating that meditation not only changes the brain, but it changes our subjective perception and feelings as well. In fact, a follow-up study by Lazar’s team found that after meditation training, changes in brain areas linked to mood and arousal were also linked to improvements in how participants said they felt — i.e., their psychological well-being. So for anyone who says that activated blobs in the brain don’t necessarily mean anything, our subjective experience – improved mood and well-being – does indeed seem to be shifted through meditation as well.

Just a Few Days of Training Improves Concentration and Attention 

Having problems concentrating isn’t just a kid thing – it affects millions of grown-ups as well, with an ADD diagnosis or not. Interestingly but not surprisingly, one of the central benefits of meditation is that it improves attention and concentration: One recent study found that just a couple of weeks of meditation training helped people’s focus and memory during the verbal reasoning section of the GRE. In fact, the increase in score was equivalent to 16 percentile points, which is nothing to sneeze at. Since the strong focus of attention (on an object, idea, or activity) is one of the central aims of meditation, it’s not so surprising that meditation should help people’s cognitive skills on the job, too – but it’s nice to have science confirm it. And everyone can use a little extra assistance on standardized tests.

Meditation Reduces Anxiety — and Social Anxiety

A lot of people start meditating for its benefits in stress reduction, and there’s lots of good evidence to support this rationale. There’s a whole newer sub-genre of meditation, mentioned earlier, called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts’ Center for Mindfulness (now available all over the country), that aims to reduce a person’s stress level, physically and mentally. Studies have shown its benefits in reducing anxiety,even years after the initial 8-week course. Research has also shown that mindfulness meditation, in contrast to attending to the breath only, can reduce anxiety – and that these changes seem to be mediated through the brain regions associated with those self-referential (“me-centered”) thoughts. Mindfulness meditation has also been shownto help people with social anxiety disorder: a Stanford University team found that MBSR brought about changes in brain regions involved in attention, as well as relief from symptoms of social anxiety.

Meditation Can Help with Addiction

A growing number of studies has shown that, given its effects on the self-control regions of the brain, meditation can be very effective in helping people recover from various types of addiction. One study, for example, pitted mindfulness training against the American Lung Association’s freedom from smoking (FFS) program, and found that people who learned mindfulness were many times more likely to have quit smoking by the end of the training, and at 17 weeks follow-up, than those in the conventional treatment. This may be because meditation helps people “decouple” the state of craving from the act of smoking, so the one doesn’t always have to lead to the other, but rather you fully experience and ride out the “wave” of craving, until it passes. Other research has found that mindfulness training, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), and mindfulness-based relapse prevention (MBRP) can be helpful in treating other forms of addiction.


Short Meditation Breaks Can Help Kids in School

For developing brains, meditation has as much as or perhaps even more promise than it has for adults. There’s been increasing interest from educators and researchersin bringing meditation and yoga to school kids, who are dealing with the usual stressors inside school, and oftentimes additional stress and trauma outside school. Some schools have starting implementing meditation into their daily schedules, and with good effect: One district in San Francisco started a twice daily meditation program in some of its high-risk schools – and saw suspensions decrease, and GPAs and attendance increase. Studies have confirmed the cognitive and emotional benefits of meditation for schoolchildren, but more work will probably need to be done before it gains more widespread acceptance.


Worth a Try?

Meditation is not a panacea, but there’s certainly a lot of evidence that it may do some good for those who practice it regularly. Everyone from Anderson Cooper and congressman Tim Ryan to companies like Google GOOGL -1.31% and Apple AAPL +2.71% andTarget TGT -0.23% are integrating meditation into their schedules. And its benefits seem to be felt after a relatively short amount of practice. Some researchers have cautioned that meditation can lead to ill effects under certain circumstances (known as the “dark night” phenomenon), but for most people – especially if you have a good teacher – meditation is beneficial, rather than harmful. It’s certainly worth a shot: If you have a few minutes in the morning or evening (or both), rather than turning on your phone or going online, see what happens if you try quieting down your mind, or at least paying attention to your thoughts and letting them go without reacting to them. If the research is right, just a few minutes of meditation may make a big difference.

Just A Few Minutes Of Meditation May Reduce Stress, Study Finds

Mindfulness is a mental practice used to focus attention on the present moment, rather than on the usual “chatter” that’s going on in our heads. It also helps a person learn to not get caught up in his or her thoughts, but instead simply to acknowledge them and let them go. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) at UMass, has described mindfulness as paying attention, on purpose, to the present moment, curiously and non-judgmentally.


Meditation (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)

“More and more people report using meditation practices for stress reduction, but we know very little about how much you need to do for stress reduction and health benefits,” said lead author J. David Creswell. So he and his team from Carnegie Mellon University set out to determine whether low “doses” of mindfulness might have an effect on the stress response.

They divided participants into two groups: One group had three consecutive days of 25-minutes sessions of mindfulness training, in which they were taught to focus on the breath and to pay attention their experience in the present moment. The other group, who served as controls, was taught to analyze poetry, in an effort to boost critical thinking skills.

At the end of the respective training sessions, the two groups had to do two stress-inducing tasks: Completing speech or math tests in front of “stern-faced evaluators.” The participants rated their perceieved stress levels during the tests, and gave saliva samples so the researchers could measure their levels of the stress hormones cortisol.

The people who’d gone through mindfulness training found the speech and math tests to be less stressful than those who had been trained in critical thinking. The cortisol reactivity was also higher in the meditators than in the control group.

What’s interesting is that while perceived stress levels were low, cortisol production was higher – this may be because practicing mindfulness takes some effort, at least at first. “When you initially learn mindfulness mediation practices, you have to cognitively work at it — especially during a stressful task,” said Creswell. “And, these active cognitive efforts may result in the task feeling less stressful, but they may also have physiological costs with higher cortisol production.”

The team is next going to explore whether long-term practice may make mindfulness more “automatic,” and have the effect of reducing cortisol levels. Given past research on experienced meditators, that’s probably a pretty good guess. And there are many other benefits that come with meditation, especially when it’s practiced over the years. Stress reduction may be one of the first ones that people notice, but others – less depression and rumination, and more self-awareness and satisfaction – may follow.

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Alice G. WaltonAlice G. Walton  Contributor

Luther King Marches  selma-montgomery-march-H johnson 1965

My dear and abiding friends, Ralph Abernathy, and to all of the distinguished Americans seated here on the rostrum, my friends and co-workers of the state of Alabama, and to all of the freedom-loving people who have assembled here this afternoon from all over our nation and from all over the world: Last Sunday, more than eight thousand of us started on a mighty walk from Selma, Alabama. We have walked through desolate valleys and across the trying hills. We have walked on meandering highways and rested our bodies on rocky byways. Some of our faces are burned from the outpourings of the sweltering sun. Some have literally slept in the mud. We have been drenched by the rains. [Audience:] (Speak) Our bodies are tired and our feet are somewhat sore.

But today as I stand before you and think back over that great march, I can say, as Sister Pollard said—a seventy-year-old Negro woman who lived in this community during the bus boycott—and one day, she was asked while walking if she didn’t want to ride. And when she answered, “No,” the person said, “Well, aren’t you tired?” And with her ungrammatical profundity, she said, “My feets is tired, but my soul is rested.” (Yes, sir. All right) And in a real sense this afternoon, we can say that our feet are tired, (Yes, sir) but our souls are rested.

They told us we wouldn’t get here. And there were those who said that we would get here only over their dead bodies, (Well. Yes, sir. Talk) but all the world today knows that we are here and we are standing before the forces of power in the state of Alabama saying, “We ain’t goin’ let nobody turn us around.” (Yes, sir. Speak) [Applause]

Now it is not an accident that one of the great marches of American history should terminate in Montgomery, Alabama. (Yes, sir) Just ten years ago, in this very city, a new philosophy was born of the Negro struggle. Montgomery was the first city in the South in which the entire Negro community united and squarely faced its age-old oppressors. (Yes, sir. Well) Out of this struggle, more than bus [de]segregation was won; a new idea, more powerful than guns or clubs was born. Negroes took it and carried it across the South in epic battles (Yes, sir. Speak) that electrified the nation (Well) and the world.

Yet, strangely, the climactic conflicts always were fought and won on Alabama soil. After Montgomery’s, heroic confrontations loomed up in Mississippi, Arkansas, Georgia, and elsewhere. But not until the colossus of segregation was challenged in Birmingham did the conscience of America begin to bleed. White America was profoundly aroused by Birmingham because it witnessed the whole community of Negroes facing terror and brutality with majestic scorn and heroic courage. And from the wells of this democratic spirit, the nation finally forced Congress (Well) to write legislation (Yes, sir) in the hope that it would eradicate the stain of Birmingham. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 gave Negroes some part of their rightful dignity, (Speak, sir) but without the vote it was dignity without strength. (Yes, sir)

Once more the method of nonviolent resistance (Yes) was unsheathed from its scabbard, and once again an entire community was mobilized to confront the adversary. (Yes, sir) And again the brutality of a dying order shrieks across the land. Yet, Selma, Alabama, became a shining moment in the conscience of man. If the worst in American life lurked in its dark streets, the best of American instincts arose passionately from across the nation to overcome it. (Yes, sir. Speak) There never was a moment in American history (Yes, sir) more honorable and more inspiring than the pilgrimage of clergymen and laymen of every race and faith pouring into Selma to face danger (Yes) at the side of its embattled Negroes.

The confrontation of good and evil compressed in the tiny community of Selma (Speak, speak) generated the massive power (Yes, sir. Yes, sir) to turn the whole nation to a new course. A president born in the South (Well) had the sensitivity to feel the will of the country, (Speak, sir) and in an address that will live in history as one of the most passionate pleas for human rights ever made by a president of our nation, he pledged the might of the federal government to cast off the centuries-old blight. President Johnson rightly praised the courage of the Negro for awakening the conscience of the nation. (Yes, sir)

On our part we must pay our profound respects to the white Americans who cherish their democratic traditions over the ugly customs and privileges of generations and come forth boldly to join hands with us. (Yes, sir) From Montgomery to Birmingham, (Yes, sir) from Birmingham to Selma, (Yes, sir) from Selma back to Montgomery, (Yes) a trail wound in a circle long and often bloody, yet it has become a highway up from darkness. (Yes, sir) Alabama has tried to nurture and defend evil, but evil is choking to death in the dusty roads and streets of this state. (Yes, sir. Speak, sir) So I stand before you this afternoon (Speak, sir. Well) with the conviction that segregation is on its deathbed in Alabama, and the only thing uncertain about it is how costly the segregationists and Wallace will make the funeral. (Go ahead. Yes, sir) [Applause]

Our whole campaign in Alabama has been centered around the right to vote. In focusing the attention of the nation and the world today on the flagrant denial of the right to vote, we are exposing the very origin, the root cause, of racial segregation in the Southland. Racial segregation as a way of life did not come about as a natural result of hatred between the races immediately after the Civil War. There were no laws segregating the races then. And as the noted historian, C. Vann Woodward, in his book, The Strange Career of Jim Crow, clearly points out, the segregation of the races was really a political stratagem employed by the emerging Bourbon interests in the South to keep the southern masses divided and southern labor the cheapest in the land. You see, it was a simple thing to keep the poor white masses working for near-starvation wages in the years that followed the Civil War. Why, if the poor white plantation or mill worker became dissatisfied with his low wages, the plantation or mill owner would merely threaten to fire him and hire former Negro slaves and pay him even less. Thus, the southern wage level was kept almost unbearably low.

Toward the end of the Reconstruction era, something very significant happened. (Listen to him) That is what was known as the Populist Movement. (Speak, sir) The leaders of this movement began awakening the poor white masses (Yes, sir) and the former Negro slaves to the fact that they were being fleeced by the emerging Bourbon interests. Not only that, but they began uniting the Negro and white masses (Yeah) into a voting bloc that threatened to drive the Bourbon interests from the command posts of political power in the South.

To meet this threat, the southern aristocracy began immediately to engineer this development of a segregated society. (Right) I want you to follow me through here because this is very important to see the roots of racism and the denial of the right to vote. Through their control of mass media, they revised the doctrine of white supremacy. They saturated the thinking of the poor white masses with it, (Yes) thus clouding their minds to the real issue involved in the Populist Movement. They then directed the placement on the books of the South of laws that made it a crime for Negroes and whites to come together as equals at any level. (Yes, sir) And that did it. That crippled and eventually destroyed the Populist Movement of the nineteenth century.

If it may be said of the slavery era that the white man took the world and gave the Negro Jesus, then it may be said of the Reconstruction era that the southern aristocracy took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow. (Yes, sir) He gave him Jim Crow. (Uh huh) And when his wrinkled stomach cried out for the food that his empty pockets could not provide, (Yes, sir) he ate Jim Crow, a psychological bird that told him that no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man, better than the black man. (Right sir) And he ate Jim Crow. (Uh huh) And when his undernourished children cried out for the necessities that his low wages could not provide, he showed them the Jim Crow signs on the buses and in the stores, on the streets and in the public buildings. (Yes, sir) And his children, too, learned to feed upon Jim Crow, (Speak) their last outpost of psychological oblivion. (Yes, sir)

Thus, the threat of the free exercise of the ballot by the Negro and the white masses alike (Uh huh) resulted in the establishment of a segregated society. They segregated southern money from the poor whites; they segregated southern mores from the rich whites; (Yes, sir) they segregated southern churches from Christianity (Yes, sir); they segregated southern minds from honest thinking; (Yes, sir) and they segregated the Negro from everything. (Yes, sir) That’s what happened when the Negro and white masses of the South threatened to unite and build a great society: a society of justice where none would pray upon the weakness of others; a society of plenty where greed and poverty would be done away; a society of brotherhood where every man would respect the dignity and worth of human personality. (Yes, sir)

We’ve come a long way since that travesty of justice was perpetrated upon the American mind. James Weldon Johnson put it eloquently. He said:

We have come over a way

That with tears hath been watered. (Yes, sir)

We have come treading our paths

Through the blood of the slaughtered. (Yes, sir)

Out of the gloomy past, (Yes, sir)

Till now we stand at last

Where the white gleam

Of our bright star is cast. (Speak, sir)

Today I want to tell the city of Selma, (Tell them, Doctor) today I want to say to the state of Alabama, (Yes, sir) today I want to say to the people of America and the nations of the world, that we are not about to turn around. (Yes, sir) We are on the move now. (Yes, sir)

Yes, we are on the move and no wave of racism can stop us. (Yes, sir) We are on the move now. The burning of our churches will not deter us. (Yes, sir) The bombing of our homes will not dissuade us. (Yes, sir) We are on the move now. (Yes, sir) The beating and killing of our clergymen and young people will not divert us. We are on the move now. (Yes, sir) The wanton release of their known murderers would not discourage us. We are on the move now. (Yes, sir) Like an idea whose time has come, (Yes, sir) not even the marching of mighty armies can halt us. (Yes, sir) We are moving to the land of freedom. (Yes, sir)

Let us therefore continue our triumphant march (Uh huh) to the realization of the American dream. (Yes, sir) Let us march on segregated housing (Yes, sir) until every ghetto or social and economic depression dissolves, and Negroes and whites live side by side in decent, safe, and sanitary housing. (Yes, sir) Let us march on segregated schools (Let us march, Tell it) until every vestige of segregated and inferior education becomes a thing of the past, and Negroes and whites study side-by-side in the socially-healing context of the classroom.

Let us march on poverty (Let us march) until no American parent has to skip a meal so that their children may eat. (Yes, sir) March on poverty (Let us march) until no starved man walks the streets of our cities and towns (Yes, sir) in search of jobs that do not exist. (Yes, sir) Let us march on poverty (Let us march) until wrinkled stomachs in Mississippi are filled, (That’s right) and the idle industries of Appalachia are realized and revitalized, and broken lives in sweltering ghettos are mended and remolded.

Let us march on ballot boxes, (Let’s march) march on ballot boxes until race-baiters disappear from the political arena.

Let us march on ballot boxes until the salient misdeeds of bloodthirsty mobs (Yes, sir) will be transformed into the calculated good deeds of orderly citizens. (Speak, Doctor)

Let us march on ballot boxes (Let us march) until the Wallaces of our nation tremble away in silence.

Let us march on ballot boxes (Let us march) until we send to our city councils (Yes, sir), state legislatures, (Yes, sir) and the United States Congress, (Yes, sir) men who will not fear to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God.

Let us march on ballot boxes (Let us march. March) until brotherhood becomes more than a meaningless word in an opening prayer, but the order of the day on every legislative agenda.

Let us march on ballot boxes (Yes) until all over Alabama God’s children will be able to walk the earth in decency and honor.

There is nothing wrong with marching in this sense. (Yes, sir) The Bible tells us that the mighty men of Joshua merely walked about the walled city of Jericho (Yes) and the barriers to freedom came tumbling down. (Yes, sir) I like that old Negro spiritual, (Yes, sir) “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho.” In its simple, yet colorful, depiction (Yes, sir) of that great moment in biblical history, it tells us that:

Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, (Tell it)

Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, (Yes, sir)

And the walls come tumbling down. (Yes, sir. Tell it)

Up to the walls of Jericho they marched, spear in hand. (Yes, sir)

“Go blow them ramhorns,” Joshua cried,

“‘Cause the battle am in my hand.” (Yes, sir)

These words I have given you just as they were given us by the unknown, long-dead, dark-skinned originator. (Yes, sir) Some now long-gone black bard bequeathed to posterity these words in ungrammatical form, (Yes, sir) yet with emphatic pertinence for all of us today. (Uh huh)

The battle is in our hands. And we can answer with creative nonviolence the call to higher ground to which the new directions of our struggle summons us. (Yes, sir) The road ahead is not altogether a smooth one. (No) There are no broad highways that lead us easily and inevitably to quick solutions. But we must keep going.

In the glow of the lamplight on my desk a few nights ago, I gazed again upon the wondrous sign of our times, full of hope and promise of the future. (Uh huh) And I smiled to see in the newspaper photographs of many a decade ago, the faces so bright, so solemn, of our valiant heroes, the people of Montgomery. To this list may be added the names of all those (Yes) who have fought and, yes, died in the nonviolent army of our day: Medgar Evers, (Speak) three civil rights workers in Mississippi last summer, (Uh huh) William Moore, as has already been mentioned, (Yes, sir) the Reverend James Reeb, (Yes, sir) Jimmy Lee Jackson, (Yes, sir) and four little girls in the church of God in Birmingham on Sunday morning. (Yes, sir) But in spite of this, we must go on and be sure that they did not die in vain. (Yes, sir) The pattern of their feet as they walked through Jim Crow barriers in the great stride toward freedom is the thunder of the marching men of Joshua, (Yes, sir) and the world rocks beneath their tread. (Yes, sir)

My people, my people, listen. (Yes, sir) The battle is in our hands. (Yes, sir) The battle is in our hands in Mississippi and Alabama and all over the United States. (Yes, sir) I know there is a cry today in Alabama, (Uh huh) we see it in numerous editorials: “When will Martin Luther King, SCLC, SNCC, and all of these civil rights agitators and all of the white clergymen and labor leaders and students and others get out of our community and let Alabama return to normalcy?”

But I have a message that I would like to leave with Alabama this evening. (Tell it) That is exactly what we don’t want, and we will not allow it to happen, (Yes, sir) for we know that it was normalcy in Marion (Yes, sir) that led to the brutal murder of Jimmy Lee Jackson. (Speak) It was normalcy in Birmingham (Yes) that led to the murder on Sunday morning of four beautiful, unoffending, innocent girls. It was normalcy on Highway 80 (Yes, sir) that led state troopers to use tear gas and horses and billy clubs against unarmed human beings who were simply marching for justice. (Speak, sir) It was normalcy by a cafe in Selma, Alabama, that led to the brutal beating of Reverend James Reeb.

It is normalcy all over our country (Yes, sir) which leaves the Negro perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of vast ocean of material prosperity. It is normalcy all over Alabama (Yeah) that prevents the Negro from becoming a registered voter. (Yes) No, we will not allow Alabama (Go ahead) to return to normalcy. [Applause]

The only normalcy that we will settle for (Yes, sir) is the normalcy that recognizes the dignity and worth of all of God’s children. The only normalcy that we will settle for is the normalcy that allows judgment to run down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. (Yes, sir) The only normalcy that we will settle for is the normalcy of brotherhood, the normalcy of true peace, the normalcy of justice.

And so as we go away this afternoon, let us go away more than ever before committed to this struggle and committed to nonviolence. I must admit to you that there are still some difficult days ahead. We are still in for a season of suffering in many of the black belt counties of Alabama, many areas of Mississippi, many areas of Louisiana. I must admit to you that there are still jail cells waiting for us, and dark and difficult moments. But if we will go on with the faith that nonviolence and its power can transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows, we will be able to change all of these conditions.

And so I plead with you this afternoon as we go ahead: remain committed to nonviolence. Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding. We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. And that will be a day not of the white man, not of the black man. That will be the day of man as man. (Yes)

I know you are asking today, “How long will it take?” (Speak, sir) Somebody’s asking, “How long will prejudice blind the visions of men, darken their understanding, and drive bright-eyed wisdom from her sacred throne?” Somebody’s asking, “When will wounded justice, lying prostrate on the streets of Selma and Birmingham and communities all over the South, be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men?” Somebody’s asking, “When will the radiant star of hope be plunged against the nocturnal bosom of this lonely night, (Speak, speak, speak) plucked from weary souls with chains of fear and the manacles of death? How long will justice be crucified, (Speak) and truth bear it?” (Yes, sir)

I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, (Yes, sir) however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, (No sir) because “truth crushed to earth will rise again.” (Yes, sir)

How long? Not long, (Yes, sir) because “no lie can live forever.” (Yes, sir)

How long? Not long, (All right. How long) because “you shall reap what you sow.” (Yes, sir)

How long? (How long?) Not long: (Not long)

Truth forever on the scaffold, (Speak)

Wrong forever on the throne, (Yes, sir)

Yet that scaffold sways the future, (Yes, sir)

And, behind the dim unknown,

Standeth God within the shadow,

Keeping watch above his own.

How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. (Yes, sir)

How long? Not long, (Not long) because:

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord; (Yes, sir)

He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; (Yes)

He has loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword; (Yes, sir)

His truth is marching on. (Yes, sir)

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat; (Speak, sir)

He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat. (That’s right)

O, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! Be jubilant my feet!

Our God is marching on. (Yeah)

Glory, hallelujah! (Yes, sir) Glory, hallelujah! (All right)

Glory, hallelujah! Glory, hallelujah!

His truth is marching on. [Applause]

selma-montgomery-march mlk

selma wikipedia

February 5, 2015
KRISTA TIPPETT, HOST: Mary Oliver is one of our greatest living poets, beloved and often quoted by people across ages and backgrounds. She rarely gives interviews or speaks about the life behind her writing. But she's with us, this hour.
[music: “Seven League Boots” by Zoe Keating]
MARY OLIVER: "Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, / the world offers itself to your imagination, / calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting— / over and over announcing your place / in the family of things."
Lord knows when I started writing poetry, it was rotten.
MS. TIPPETT: The poetry was rotten?
MS. OLIVER: Sure. I was 10, 11, 12 years old, but I kept at it — with my pencil I've traveled to the moon and back. Probably a few times.
MS. TIPPETT: I'm Krista Tippett, and this is On Being. Mary Oliver was born in 1935 and grew up in a small town in Ohio. she's won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, among her many honors. she's published numerous collections of poetry and also some wonderful prose. She lived and wrote for five decades in Provincetown, Massachusetts on Cape Cod, and her poetry is vivid with a sense of place. After an illness and the death of her longtime partner, the photographer Molly Malone Cook, Mary Oliver has now moved to southern Florida. And That's where I visited her.
MS. TIPPETT: The question I always start with, whether I'm interviewing a physicist or a poet is — I"d like to hear whether there was a spiritual background to your childhood. However you would define that now.
MS. OLIVER: Well, I would define it now very differently from when I was a child. I was sent to Sunday School, as many kids are. And then I had trouble with the resurrection. So I would not join the church. But I was still probably more interested than many of the kids who did enter the church. It's been one of the most important interests of my life and continues to be. And it doesn't have to be Christianity. I'm very much taken with the poet Rumi.
MS. TIPPETT: Mm-hmm.
MS. OLIVER: Who is Muslim, a Sufi poet — and read him every day, and have no answers but have some suggestions. [laughs] I know that a life is much richer with a spiritual part to it.
MS. TIPPETT: Mm-hmm.
MS. OLIVER: And I also think nothing is more interesting. So I cling to it.
MS. TIPPETT: Right. And then you talk about growing up in a sad, depressed place, a difficult place. In another — you don't belabor this, I mean, and in other places — there's a place you talk about you were one of many thousands who've had insufficient childhoods.
MS. TIPPETT: But that you spent a lot of your time walking around the woods.
MS. OLIVER: I did. And I think it saved my life. I — to this day, I don't care for the enclosure of buildings.
MS. TIPPETT: Mm-hmm.
MS. OLIVER: It was a very bad childhood for everybody, every member of the household, not just myself I think. And I escaped it, barely. With years of trouble.
MS. OLIVER: But I did find the entire world in looking for something. But I got saved by poetry. And I got saved by the beauty of the world.
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah. And there's such a convergence of those things then...
MS. TIPPETT: It seems all the way through.
MS. TIPPETT: You — in your life as a poet.
MS. OLIVER: It is. It is a convergence. And I have a little difficulty now having lived for fifty years in a small town in the North. I'm trying very hard to love the mangroves. [laughs]
MS. TIPPETT: Well, I know.
MS. OLIVER: It takes a while.
MS. TIPPETT: And I have to say, you and your poetry, for me, are so closely identified with Provincetown and...
MS. TIPPETT: ...and that part of the world, and that kind of dramatic weather — that kind of shore.
MS. TIPPETT: And so when I had this amazing opportunity to come visit you — and I said, ‘Oh great, we’re going to Cape Cod.’ "No, we’re going to Florida." [laughs]
MS. OLIVER: Yes. Well, I just sold my condo to a very dear friend this summer. And I bought a little house down here, which is — needs very serious reconstruction. So, I'm not in it yet. But sometimes it's time for the change.
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah. Though, for all those years, for decades of your writing, this picture was there of you. This pleasure of walking and writing and, I don't know, standing with your notebook.
MS. TIPPETT: And actually writing while you're walking. [laughs]
MS. OLIVER: Yes. That's how I did it.
MS. TIPPETT: And it is. And it seems like such a gift that you found that way. To be a writer and to have that daily — have a ritual of writing.
MS. OLIVER: Well, I don't — as I say I don't like buildings.
MS. OLIVER: So I was — the only record I broke and in school was truancy. I went to the woods a lot with books.
MS. OLIVER: Whitman in the knapsack. But I also liked motion. So I just began with these little notebooks and scribbled things as I — they came to me. And then worked them into poems later. And always I wanted the "I." Many of the poems are "I did this. I did this. I saw this." I wanted them — the "I" to be the possible reader.
MS. TIPPETT: Mm-hmm.
MS. OLIVER: Rather than about myself. It was about an experience that happened to be mine but could well have been anybody else’s. And that was my feeling about the "I." I have been criticized by one editor who felt that "I" would be felt as ego. And I thought, no, well, I'm going to risk it and see. And I think it worked. It enjoined the reader into the experience of the poem. I became the kind of person who did the walking and the scribbling but shared it.
MS. OLIVER: If they wanted it. Yes.
MS. TIPPETT: And you also use this word — there's this place where you're talking about writing while walking, you know, listening deeply. And I love this, listening, "listening convivially."
MS. OLIVER: [laughs] Yes. Yeah.
MS. TIPPETT: And listening, really, to the world.
MS. OLIVER: Listening to the world. Well, I did that and I still do it.
MS. TIPPETT: Mm-hmm.
MS. OLIVER: I still do it.
MS. TIPPETT: I was going to ask you if you thought you could have been a poet in an age when you probably would have grown up writing on computers.
MS. OLIVER: Oh. Oh, now? Oh, I very much advise writers not to use a computer.
MS. TIPPETT: But it seems to me that more than the computer being the problem, the sitting at a desk would be a problem.
MS. OLIVER: That's a problem. Lots of things are problems. I always — as I talk about it in the Poetry Handbook, discipline is very important.
MS. OLIVER: The habit — I think we're creative all day long. And if — we have to have an appointment to have that work out on the page. Because the creative part of us gets tired of waiting, or just gets tired. And It's helped a lot of students, young poets doing that. To have that meeting with that part of oneself because there are, of course, other parts of life. I used to say I gave my — when I had jobs, which wasn’t that often, but I’d say I give my very best second, second class to...
MS. TIPPETT: ...to the job.
MS. OLIVER: ...labor to the — because I’d get up at five, and by nine I’d already had my say.
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah. And also when you write about that — the discipline that creates space for something quite mysterious to happen. You talk about that "wild, silky part of ourselves." You talk about the “part of the psyche that works in concert with consciousness and supplies a necessary part of the poem—a heart of the star as opposed to the shape of the star, let us say—exists in a mysterious, unmapped zone: not unconscious, not subconscious, but cautious.”
MS. OLIVER: Where? What is that from?
MS. TIPPETT: That's from the Poetry Handbook. [laughs]
MS. OLIVER: [laughs] It's been a while.
MS. TIPPETT: It's great. But you say — you promise — it learns quickly what sort of courtship It's going to be. you're saying that the writer has to be kind of in courtship with this...
MS. TIPPETT: ...elusive, essential, but elusive, cautious, as you say, cautious part. And that if you turn up every day, it will learn to trust you.
MS. OLIVER: Yes, yes, yes, yes. I remember that.
MS. TIPPETT: This is a very practical way about talking about something That's quite...
MS. OLIVER: That trust is very important.
MS. TIPPETT: And That's the creative process.
MS. OLIVER: That is the creative process. It's also true that I believe poetry — it is a convivial and kind of, I mean, It's very old. It's very sacred. It's very — wishes for a community. It's a community ritual, certainly. And That's why, when you write a poem, you write it for anybody and everybody.
MS. OLIVER: And you have to be ready to do that out of your single self. It's a giving. It's always — It's a gift. It's a gift to yourself but It's a gift to anybody who has a hunger for it.
MS. TIPPETT: Right. And I wonder if It's something about this process you describe where you've applied the will, but also the discipline, to reach and also make room for something That's very deep in us. Right? I mean, I love this language, "this wild, silky part of ourselves." I don't know, maybe the soul.
MS. OLIVER: It's become a nasty word lately.
MS. TIPPETT: I know it has.
MS. OLIVER: Because It's used — It's become a lazy word.
MS. OLIVER: It's too bad.
MS. TIPPETT: It's cliched.
MS. OLIVER: Yeah. Overused.
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah, the silky part, let"s just call it that. But I mean, so if you — when you offer that, poetry does create a way to offer that in a condensed...
MS. TIPPETT: ...form, vivid form.
MS. OLIVER: And very often it — it was Blake who said, “I take dictation.”
MS. OLIVER: With that discipline and with that willingness and wish to communicate, very often things very slippery do come in that you weren’t planning on receiving them.
MS. OLIVER: But they do happen. It does — I have very rarely, maybe four or five times in my life, I've written a poem that I never changed. And I don't know where it came from. But it does happen. But it happens among hundreds of poems that you've struggled over. But It's poss...
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah. Do you know which — do you know what some of those are? Do you know what they are still?
MS. OLIVER: Well, the Percy one was one.
MS. OLIVER: “The First Time Percy Came Back.”
MS. OLIVER: I never changed a word of that. And there are others. I can't remember, but there are a few. Of course, there are also poems that I just write out and then I throw them out.
MS. OLIVER: Lots of those.
MS. TIPPETT: Well, and also, when you talk about this life of waking up in the morning and being outside in this wild landscape with your notebook in your hand and walking. It's so enviable, right? But then I know, when you're in the Poetry Handbook, there's the discipline of being there, but there's also the hard work of rewriting. And, as you say, some things have to be thrown out.
MS. OLIVER: Oh many, many, many have to be thrown out. For sure.
MS. TIPPETT: There's an un-romantic part to the process as well.
MS. OLIVER: Well, That's an interesting word. Somebody once wrote about me and said I must have a private grant or something that all I seem to do is walk around the woods and write poems. But I was very, very poor.
MS. TIPPETT: Mm-hmm.
MS. OLIVER: And I found — I ate lot of fish, I ate lot of clams.
MS. TIPPETT: Right. And I realized that you actually — you weren"t just walking around the woods. You were gathering food...
MS. OLIVER: Yes. Yes.
MS. TIPPETT: ...in those early years: mussels and clams and mushrooms and berries. Although you gave voice to this kind of really lavish, even ornate beauty that you lived in that was your daily — that was really your mundane world.
MS. OLIVER: Yes, That's true.
MS. TIPPETT: So there's a question that you pose in many different ways, overtly and implicitly, you know, "How shall I live?" In Long Life you wrote, “What does it mean that the earth is so beautiful? And what shall I do about it? [laughs] What is the gift that I should bring to the world? What is the life that I should live?” Which really is a question of moral imagination.
MS. OLIVER: Yes. Yeah.
MS. TIPPETT: And It's the ancient essential question. But I wonder how you think about how that question emerges and is addressed distinctively in poetry and through poetry. What does poetry do with a question like that that other forms of language don't?
MS. OLIVER: Well, I think I would disagree that other forms of language don't. But poetry has a different kind of attraction.
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah. So what is that attraction in poetry?
MS. OLIVER: I think It's the way It's written. It's the fact that it has been communal for years and years and years and we’ve missed it. But I do think poetry has enticements of sound that are different from literature. Literature certainly has it too, or some literature, the best literature. And it has — It's easier for people to remember. People are more apt to remember a poem and therefore feel they own it.
MS. OLIVER: And can speak it to themselves as you might a prayer — than they can remember a chapter and quote it. And That's very important because then it belongs to you. You have it when you need it. But poetry is certainly closer to singing than prose.
MS. TIPPETT: Right. Right.
MS. OLIVER: And singing is something that we all love to do or wish we could do. [laughs] It...
MS. TIPPETT: And it goes all the way through you.
MS. OLIVER: Yes. It does indeed.
[music: “The Best Paper Airplane Ever” by Lullatone]
MS. TIPPETT: I'm Krista Tippett and this is On Being. Today in a rare conversation with the poet Mary Oliver.
[music: “The Best Paper Airplane Ever” by Lullatone]
MS. TIPPETT: I just wanted to read — I just love — I just want to read these. This is from Long Life also. “The world is: fun, and familiar, and healthful, and unbelievably refreshing, and lovely. And it is the theater of the spiritual; it is the multiform utterly obedient to a mystery.”
MS. OLIVER: Yeah. Well, you know, and it is. We all wonder, "Who is God? What"s going to happen when we die?" All that stuff. And I don't think it's — maybe — it's never nothing. I'm very fond of Lucretius.
MS. TIPPETT: Say some more.
MS. OLIVER: And Lucretius says just everything’s a little energy. You go back and you're these little bits of energy and pretty soon you're something else. Now That's a continuance. It's not the one we think of when we're talking about the golden streets and the angels with how many wings and whatever, the hierarchy of angels. Even angels have a hierarchy. But It's something quite wonderful.
The world is pretty much — everything is mortal. It dies. But its parts don't die. Its parts become something else. And we know that when we bury a dog in the garden. And with a rose bush on top of it. We know that there is replenishment. And That's pretty amazing.
MS. TIPPETT: Mm-hmm.
MS. OLIVER: And what more there might be, I don't know, but I'm pretty sure pretty confident of that one.
MS. TIPPETT: [laughs] And, I mean, again do you think spending your life as a poet and working with words and responding to the world in the way you have as a poet gives you, I don't know, tools to work with? Because putting words around God, or what God is, or who God is, or, I don't know, heaven — It's always insufficient.
MS. OLIVER: It's always insufficient, but the question and the wonder is not unsatisfying. It's never totally satisfying. But It's intriguing. And also what one does end up believing, even if it shifts, has an effect upon life that you live, the life that you choose to live or try to live. So it’s an endless unanswerable quest. So I just — I find it endlessly fascinating. And I think also religion is very helpful in people not thinking that they themselves are sufficient. That there is something that has to do with all of us that is more than all of us are.
MS. TIPPETT: And I think that is what you do because of the particular vision that you have, what you pay attention to, what you attend to, which is that grandeur, that largeness of the natural world, which — you know, a couple of years ago when I was writing, and I picked up your book A Thousand Mornings. And here’s the first one, “I Go Down to the Shore”: "I go down to the shore in the morning / and depending on the hour the waves / are rolling in or moving out, / and I say, oh, I am miserable, / what shall— / what should I do? And the sea says / in its lovely voice: / Excuse me, I have work to do."
MS. OLIVER: I love that.
MS. TIPPETT: I love that. And I have to say also, to me, it was just — It's so perfect. It kind of was, like, what"s the point of writing 50,000, bringing 50,000 new words into the world? This says it all.
MS. OLIVER: Well, I have had a rash, which seems to be continuing, of writing shorter poems.
MS. TIPPETT: I noticed that in your more recent poems.
MS. OLIVER: And it probably is an influence from Rumi, whose poems are — many of them are quite short. But if you can say it in a few lines, you're just decorating for the rest of it. Unless you could — intent makes something more intense, but if you said what you want to say, you're not going to make it more intense. you're just going to repeat yourself. So I've got a poem that will start the next book. I think it goes like this: "Things take the time they take. don't worry. How many roads did St. Augustine follow before he became St. Augustine?"
Same kind of thing. What else is there to say?
MS. TIPPETT: [laughs] That's right.
MS. OLIVER: And That's four lines, and That's not a day’s work. But the poem is done.
MS. TIPPETT: And it speaks so completely perfectly to the "I" who's reading the poem. Even though it's — it's about St Augustine, but it's about all of us. Right?
MS. OLIVER: Yeah, and people do worry that they’re not wherever they want to go. And St. Augustine — I just read a biography of him. And he was all over the map before he settled down.
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah. I’d like to talk about attention, which is another real theme that runs through your work — both the word and the practice. And I know people associate you with that word. But I was interested to read that you began to learn that attention without feeling is only a report. That there is more to attention than for it to matter in the way you want it to matter. Say something about that learning.
MS. OLIVER: You need empathy with it rather than just reporting. Reporting is for field guides. And they’re great. They’re helpful. But That's what they are. But they’re not thought provokers. And they don't go anywhere. And I say somewhere that attention is the beginning of devotion, which I do believe. But That's it. A lot of these things are said but can't be explained.
MS. TIPPETT: I think that your poem "A Summer Day" is maybe, is one of the best known.
MS. OLIVER: Yes it is. I would say that's true.
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah. So, my daughter, who is now 21 and all grown up, but who then was about 12 was assigned to memorize "A Summer Day."
MS. OLIVER: "The Summer Day."
MS. TIPPETT: "The Summer Day," "The Summer Day" in sixth grade. And so she came home reciting this poem and I felt really embodying it. And we actually played it in the show. Anyway, I brought it because I wanted you to hear it. And so remember, she's not reading it, she'd learned it.
ALY TIPPETT: "The Summer Day": "Who made the world?
 / Who made the swan, and the black bear? / 
Who made the grasshopper?
 / This grasshopper, I mean— / 
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
 / the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
 / who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down— / who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
 / Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
 / Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
 / I don't know exactly what a prayer is. / 
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down / 
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
 / how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
 / which is what I have been doing all day.
 / Tell me, what else should I have done?
 / doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
 / Tell me, what is it you plan to do
 / with your one wild and precious life?"
MS. OLIVER: That's a beautiful reading.
MS. TIPPETT: Is that fun for you to hear?
MS. OLIVER: Yeah. How old was she then?
MS. TIPPETT: She was about 12.
MS. OLIVER: Yeah. Beautiful
MS. TIPPETT: But so many, so many young people, I mean, young and old, have learned that poem by heart. And it's become part of them.
MS. OLIVER: Yeah. One thing about that poem, which I think is important, is that the grasshopper actually existed. And yet I was able to fit him into that poem. And the sugar he was eating was part of frosting from a Portuguese lady’s birthday cake, [laughs] which wasn’t important to the poem. But even seeing that little creature come to my plate. And say I’d like a little helping of that. It somehow fascinates me that — that's just personal for me that it was Mrs. Segura and probably her 90th birthday cake or something.
MS. TIPPETT: Did she ever read the poem? Did she ever know?
MS. OLIVER: No. She was past that. Her daughters may have, but I never advertised myself as a poet. And there was that wonderful thing about the town. And that is I was taken as somebody who worked like anybody else. And I’d go — there was one fellow who was the plumber. And we’d maybe meet in the hardware store in the morning.
MS. TIPPETT: You mean in Provincetown?
MS. OLIVER: And he'd say, "Oh, Hi Mary. How's your work going?" And I’d say, "Pretty good how was yours?" And it was the same thing. There was no sense of eliteness or difference, and that was very nice. It was just — in fact, it is a funny story. When I — the Pulitzer Prize was announced, which I didn't even know they"d turned the book in for, I was, at that time, as the whole town was doing, going out to the dump most mornings, which was a mess — that was before they cleaned up — to buy shingles. I was shingling the house or some kind of thing. And a friend of mine came by — a woman who's a painter. She said, "Ha, what are you doing looking for your old manuscripts?" [laughs] It was very funny.
MS. TIPPETT: And you didn't know? She'd heard the news?
MS. OLIVER: I knew. But my job in the morning was to go find some shingles. [laughs]
[music: “Causeway” by Ryan Teague]
MS. TIPPETT: You can listen again and share this conversation with Mary Oliver through our website, onbeing.org. I'm Krista Tippett. On Being continues in a moment.
[music: “Causeway” by Ryan Teague]
MS. TIPPETT: I'm Krista Tippett and this is On Being. Today, the poet Mary Oliver has granted us the honor of a rare interview on the world and poetry — and the life behind her writing. she's won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize among her many honors, and is beloved by people across ages and backgrounds. At age 79, she's moved from Cape Cod to Florida, to be close to friends, and That's where we visited her.
MS. TIPPETT: I wanted to also name the fact that as you said before, you're not somebody who belabors what is dark, what has been hard. I think It's important and maybe helpful for people, because there's so much beauty and light in your poetry, also that you let in the fact that It's not all sweetness and light. And you did that a lot in the Dream Workbook.
MS. OLIVER: I did. I did.
MS. TIPPETT: And those poems are notably harder.
MS. OLIVER: And a lot of — you know, I didn't know at that time what I was writing about. I really had no understanding.
MS. TIPPETT: You mean, you didn't realize that they were so hard, or you literally didn't know what you were...
MS. OLIVER: No. there's a poem called "Rage."
MS. OLIVER: And I — it's a she.
MS. OLIVER: And that was — That's perfect biography. Unfortunately, or autobiography. But I couldn’t handle that material except in the three or four poems that I've done. Just couldn"t.
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah, I mean, there's a line in "Rage": "in your dreams you have sullied and murdered, / and your dreams do not lie." And That's...
MS. OLIVER: Yeah. And and That's That's how I felt, but I didn't know I was — certainly, I didn't know I was talking about my father. Children forget. I mean they don't forget, but they forget the details. They just don't know why they have nightmares all the time. It's very difficult.
MS. TIPPETT: Isn't it incredible that we carry those things all our lives, decades and decades and decades?
MS. OLIVER: Well, we do carry it. But it is very helpful to figure out, as best you can, what happened and why these people were the way they were.
MS. OLIVER: It was a very dark and broken house that I came from.
MS. TIPPETT: I mean there's another — there's that poem in there "A Visitor", which mentions your father. And there's just, to me, this heartbreaking line, which also — I have my own story. We all do. "I saw what love might have done / had we loved in time..."
MS. OLIVER: ...had we loved in time. Yeah. Well, he never got any love out of me.
MS. OLIVER: Or deserved it. But mostly what makes you angry is the loss of the years of your life. Because it does leave damage. But there you are. You do what you can do.
MS. TIPPETT: And I think the — you have such a capacity for joy especially in the outdoors. Right? And you you transmit that. And It's that joy. If you're capable of that, having — but how much more — how much more of it would there have been?
MS. OLIVER: Well, I saved my own life by finding a place that wasn’t in that house. And that was my strength. But I wasn’t all strength. And it would have been a very different life. Whether I would have written poetry or not, who knows? Poetry is a pretty lonely pursuit. And, in many cases I used to think, I don't do it anymore, but that I'm talking to myself. there's nobody else that in that house that I was going to talk to. And it was a very difficult time, and a long time. And I don't understand some people"s behavior.
MS. TIPPETT: But I — and I guess what I'm saying, I think, is that it's a gift that you give to your readers to let that be clear. That this, you know, that your ability to love your wild, your "one wild and precious life" is hard won.
MS. TIPPETT: And, I mean — I feel like you also, for all the glorious language about God and around God that goes all the way through your poetry, you also acknowledge this perplexing thing. I mean, this was in Long Life: "What can we do about God, who makes and then breaks every god-forsaken, beautiful day?"
MS. OLIVER: [laughs] Well, we can go back and read Lucretius.
MS. TIPPETT: What does Lucretius do then?
MS. OLIVER: Lucretius just presents this marvelous and important idea that what we are made of will make something else. Which to me is very important. There is no nothingness. With these little atoms that run around too little for us to see, but put together they make something. And that to me is a miracle. Where it came from, I don't know, but it's a miracle. And I think it's enough to keep a person afloat.
MS. TIPPETT: [laughs] Let’s talk about your last couple of books. Which also are an insight into you at this stage in your life. And then I’d love for you to read some poems.
MS. TIPPETT: You have said that you were so captivated. That you were — I don't know if you've said this that way, but it seems to me you've kind of written about being so captivated by the world of nature that you were less open to the world of humans.
MS. TIPPETT: And that as you've grown older, as you've gone through life, what did you say, you've entered more fully into the human world and embraced it. Is that a good? Is that a...?
MS. OLIVER: True. It's absolutely true.
MS. TIPPETT: And was it passage of time?
MS. OLIVER: It was a passage of time. It was a passage of understanding what happened to me and why I behaved in certain ways and didn't in other ways. So it was clarity.
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah. You wrote really beautifully about the death of Molly, who you shared so much of your life with. And you wrote, I don't know, I'm finding my notes, "The end of life has its own nature, also worth our attention."
MS. TIPPETT: I liked that line. And in some ways it, it feels to me when I read your poetry of the last couple of years that that's really this territory you're on, or at least part of it.
MS. OLIVER: Well, I should be.
MS. TIPPETT: And I don't mean — I don't mean you're at the end of life, but just paying attention to...
MS. OLIVER: Well, I've been better. [laughs]
MS. TIPPETT: But just a different — it's a different chapter.
MS. OLIVER: Well, it is. I mean, I had cancer a couple years ago.
MS. OLIVER: Lung cancer. And it feels that death has left his calling card. I'm fine. I get scanned, you know, as they do. I'm lucky. I'm very lucky. But all the same, you're kind of shocked. This doctor, that doctor. I was a bad smoker.
MS. TIPPETT: And you're still smoking.
MS. OLIVER: Yeah. And last time the doctor said, "Your lungs are good." You get good fortune, take it. And you keep smoking.
MS. TIPPETT: There's that poem "The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac" in the new book.
MS. OLIVER: Yeah. How does that start? Which one is that? Oh, I — that's one of the poems about cancer.
MS. TIPPETT: Well, right. And you haven’t, I don't think — have you spoken much about your cancer? I don't...
MS. TIPPETT: People know that you were ill...
MS. OLIVER: People knew I was ill and they didn't know...
MS. TIPPETT: ...they didn't know what it was. In that poem, there's a very passing reference to it.
MS. OLIVER: Oh, yes there is. There are four poems. One is about the hunter in the woods that makes no sound. All the hunters.
MS. TIPPETT: It's a little bit long, but do you want to read it?
MS. OLIVER: Oh, where’d I put my glasses? There they are. Yeah. The fourth sign of the zodiac is, of course, cancer. Oh, That's what I meant. "Why should I have been surprised? / Hunters walk the forest / without a sound. / The hunter, strapped to his rifle, / the fox on his feet of silk, / the serpent on his empire of muscles— / all move in a stillness, / hungry, careful, intent. / Just as the cancer / entered the forest of my body, / without a sound."
Yeah. These four poems are about the cancer episode, shall we say? The cancer visit? Did you want me to go on to these others?
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah. You want to go on? Is it too much?
MS. OLIVER: No. This is the second poem of these four: "The question is, / what will it be like / after the last day? / Will I float / into the sky / or will I fray / within the earth or a river— / remembering nothing? / How desperate I would be / if I couldn’t remember / the sun rising, if I couldn’t / remember trees, rivers; if I couldn’t / even remember, beloved, / your beloved name.
3. / I know, you never intended to be in this world. / But you're in it all the same. / So why not get started immediately. / I mean, belonging to it. / There is so much to admire, to weep over. / And to write music or poems about. / Bless the feet that take you to and fro. / Bless the eyes and the listening ears. / Bless the tongue, the marvel of taste. / Bless touching. / You could live a hundred years, It's happened.
/ Or not. / I am speaking from the fortunate platform / of many years, / none of which, I think, I ever wasted. / Do you need a prod? / Do you need a little darkness to get you going? / Let me be as urgent as a knife, then, / and remind you of Keats, / so single of purpose and thinking, for a while, / he had a lifetime.
4. / Late yesterday afternoon, in the heat, / all the fragile blue flowers in bloom / in the shrubs in the yard next door had / tumbled from the shrubs and lay / wrinkled and faded on the grass. But / this morning the shrubs were full of / the blue flowers again. There wasn’t / a single one on the grass. How, I / wondered, did they roll or crawl back to / the shrubs and then back up to / the branches, that fiercely wanting, / as we all do, just a little more of / life?"
[music: “Breaking Down” by Clem Leek]
MS. TIPPETT: I'm Krista Tippett and this is On Being. Today with the beloved poet Mary Oliver.
[music: “Breaking Down” by Clem Leek]
MS. TIPPETT: There are some of your poems, and I think "The Summer Day" is one and "Wild Geese" is another, that are just — that have just entered the lexicon.
MS. OLIVER: That — yes. That — three: "The Summer Day," "Wild Geese," there's one other. I can't remember, but I would say is the third one. But I don't remember it.
MS. TIPPETT: If you think of it, tell me. So "Wild Geese" is in Dream Work. Is that a poem — and I've heard people talk about that, "Wild Geese," as a poem that has saved lives. And I wonder if when you write something like that — I mean, when you wrote that poem, or when you published this book, would you have known that that was the poem that would speak so deeply to people?
MS. OLIVER: This is the magic of it. That poem was written as an exercise in end-stopped lines.
MS. TIPPETT: As an exercise in what?
MS. OLIVER: End-stopped lines. Period at the end of the line. I was working with a poet. I had her in a class.
MS. TIPPETT: So it was an exercise in technique. [laughs]
MS. OLIVER: Yes. Yes. And not every line is that way. I was trying to show the variation, but my mind was completely on that. At the same time, I will say that I heard the wild geese. I mean, I just started out to do this for this friend and show her the effect of the line end is — you've said something definite. It's very different from enjambment. And I love all that difference. And That's what I was doing.
MS. TIPPETT: To your point that the mystery is in that combination of discipline and the convivial listening.
MS. OLIVER: Yeah. I was trying to do a certain kind of construction. Nevertheless, once I started writing the poem, it was the poem. And I knew the construction well enough that I didn't have to think about, just if I need an end-stopped line here or... It just worked itself out the way I wanted for the exercise.
MS. TIPPETT: Would you read that one?
MS. OLIVER: Sure. That's kind of a secret. But it's the truth. "Wild Geese." I actually thought it was — oh no, there it is. Fourteen. you're right. "Wild Geese": "You do not have to be good. / You do not have to walk on your knees / for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. / You only have to let the soft animal of your body / love what it loves. / Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. / Meanwhile the world goes on. / Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain / are moving across the landscapes, / over the prairies and the deep trees, / the mountains and the rivers. / Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, / are heading home again. / Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, / the world offers itself to your imagination, / calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting— / over and over announcing your place / in the family of things."
Well, it's a subject I knew a lot about. You know, so it...
MS. TIPPETT: It was just there in you.
MS. OLIVER: It what?
MS. TIPPETT: It was there in you to come out.
MS. OLIVER: It was there in me. Yes. Once I heard those geese, and said that line about anguish, and where that came from, I don't know.
MS. OLIVER: I’d say That's one of the poems that...
MS. TIPPETT: ...that just came.
MS. OLIVER: Yeah. It wasn’t dictated, but — that's what Blake used to say.
MS. OLIVER: And that's just a way of saying you don't know where it comes from.
MS. OLIVER: But if you've done it — if you've done it lot — and lord knows when I started writing poetry, it was rotten.
MS. TIPPETT: The poetry was rotten?
MS. OLIVER: Sure. I was 10, 11, 12 years old, but I kept at it, kept at it, kept at it. I used to say I — with my pencil I've traveled to the moon and back. Probably a few times. I kept at it every day. And finally you learn things.
MS. TIPPETT: I'm conscious that I want to move towards a close. I’d like to hear a little bit more — you've mentioned Rumi a few times. In A Thousand Mornings you say, "If I were a Sufi for sure I would be one of the spinning kind." And That's clear. I mean, actually it makes so much sense from how you were always on the move even as a teenager. How do you think your spiritual sensibility — and here we are again with that tricky word. But how is your spiritual — I don't want to say how is your spiritual life. I mean, you've said somewhere you've become more spiritual as you've grown older. And, I mean, what do you mean when you say that? What’s the content of that?
MS. OLIVER: I've become kinder, more people-oriented, more willing to grow old. I always was investigative in terms of everlasting life, but a little more interested now. A little more content with my answers.
MS. TIPPETT: There's this poem. The second poem in A Thousand Mornings, which is your 2013 book, which also to me just kind of, like, says it all. What’s the point of the — "I Happen to Be Standing." Would you read that one?
MS. OLIVER: Oh. Yeah.
MS. TIPPETT: It's just, there it is.
MS. OLIVER: Yeah. "I don't know where prayers go, / or what they do. / Do cats pray, while they sleep / half-asleep in the sun? / Does the opossum pray as it / crosses the street? / The sunflowers? The old black oak / growing older every year? / I know I can walk through the world, / along the shore or under the trees, / with my mind filled with things / of little importance, in full / self-attendance. A condition I can't really / call being alive. / Is a prayer a gift, or a petition, / or does it matter? / The sunflowers blaze, maybe That's their way. / Maybe the cats are sound asleep. Maybe not. / While I was thinking this I happened to be standing / just outside my door, with my notebook open, / which is the way I begin every morning. / Then a wren in the privet began to sing. / He was positively drenched in enthusiasm, / I don't know why. And yet, why not. / I wouldn't persuade you from whatever you believe / or whatever you don't. That's your business. / But I thought, of the wren"s singing, what could this be / if it isn't a prayer? / So I just listened, my pen in the air."
Well, the poems keep coming.
MS. TIPPETT: [laughs] In the Poetry Handbook you wrote, "Poetry is a life-cherishing force. And it requires a vision—a faith to use an old-fashioned term. Yes, indeed. For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry. Yes, indeed." And I just wanted to read that back to you because I feel like you've given that to so many people. You’ve demonstrated that. And, you know, you also write in poetry about thinking of Schubert scribbling on a cafe napkin, "Thank you. Thank you."
MS. OLIVER: Yes. Yes.
MS. TIPPETT: And I feel like so many people when they read — when they imagine you standing outdoors with your notebook and pen in hand, you know, "Thank you, thank you."
MS. OLIVER: You’re welcome.
MS. TIPPETT: It's been a beautiful conversation.
MS. OLIVER: You’re much welcome. I'm free. I'm free. [laughs]
MS. TIPPETT: [laughs] Yes. You are.
[music: “Morrison County” by Craig D"Andrea]
MS. TIPPETT: Mary Oliver has received the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. She has published over 25 books of poetry and prose including Dream Work, A Thousand Mornings, the Poetry Handbook, and in 2014, Blue Horses. You may know that we usually post the unedited interview behind each week’s episode. This 90 minutes with Mary Oliver contains many lovely moments, including more of her ruminations on her move from the landscape of Cape Cod to that of Florida; and on her long love of the dogs in her life.
MS. TIPPETT: Have your dogs and your love of your dogs and life with dogs infused your theology? Or is that too lofty a question?
MS. OLIVER: Well, Rilke wrote a poem — some friend of mine did a painting of it, of just a picture of a dog. And the quote is "the soul for which there is no heaven." Well, no thank you. I mean, there are going to be trees in Paradise, as we're going to have fun imagining it, whether it exists or not. Dogs are certainly going to be there. Poor little burros and donkeys after all the work they’ve done in the world. Good heavens, yes.
MS. TIPPETT: [laughs] Right.
[music: “Cirrus” by Bonobo]
MS. TIPPETT: You can listen again or share this episode in many ways, including on your phone through our iPhone and Android apps, on the brand new On Being tablet app, or of course, as always, at onbeing.org. There you can also hear Mary read all the poems you just heard and a few others she read for us. Find all this and much more at onbeing.org.
[music: “Cirrus” by Bonobo]
MS. TIPPETT: On Being is Trent Gilliss, Chris Heagle, Lily Percy, Mariah Helgeson, David Schimke, Nicki Oster, and Selena Carlson. Special thanks this week to Ann Godoff and Liz Calamari at Penguin Press and to Regula Noetzli at the Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency.
Our major funding partners are: the Ford Foundation, working with visionaries on the frontlines of social change worldwide at Fordfoundation.org. The Fetzer Institute, fostering awareness of the power of love and forgiveness to transform Our World. Find them at Fetzer.org. Kalliopeia Foundation, contributing to organizations that weave reverence, reciprocity, and resilience into the fabric of modern life. And the Osprey Foundation, a catalyst for empowered, healthy, and fulfilled lives.

Mary Oliver

Mary OliverRachel Giese

Poet Mary Oliver is an “indefatigable guide to the natural world,” wrote Maxine Kumin in the Women’s Review of Books,“particularly to its lesser-known aspects.” Oliver’s verse focuses on the quiet of occurrences of nature: industrious hummingbirds, egrets, motionless ponds, “lean owls / hunkering with their lamp-eyes.” Kumin noted that Oliver “stands quite comfortably on the margins of things, on the line between earth and sky, the thin membrane that separates human from what we loosely call animal.” Oliver’s poetry has won numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award and a Lannan Literary Award. Reviewing Dream Work (1986) for the Nation, critic Alicia Ostriker numbered Oliver among America’s finest poets, as “visionary as [Ralph Waldo] Emerson.”

Mary Oliver was born in 1935 in Maple Heights, Ohio. She attended both Ohio State University and Vassar College, but did not receive a degree from either institution. As a young poet, Oliver was deeply influenced by Edna St. Vincent Millay and briefly lived in Millay’s home, helping Norma Millay organize her sister’s papers. Oliver is notoriously reticent about her private life, but it was during this period that she met her long-time partner, Molly Malone Cook. The couple moved to Provincetown, Massachusetts, and the surrounding Cape Cod landscape has had a marked influence on Oliver’s work. Known for its clear and poignant observations and evocative use of the natural world, Oliver’s poetry is firmly rooted in place and the Romantic nature tradition. Her work received early critical attention; American Primitive (1983), her fifth book, won the Pulitzer Prize. According to Bruce Bennetin the New York Times Book Review, American Primitive, “insists on the primacy of the physical.” Bennet commended Oliver’s “distinctive voice and vision” and asserted that the “collection contains a number of powerful, substantial works.” Holly Prado of the Los Angeles Times Book Review also applauded Oliver’s original voice, writing that American Primitive “touches a vitality in the familiar that invests it with a fresh intensity.”

Dream Work (1986) continues Oliver’s search to “understand both the wonder and pain of nature” according to Prado in a later review for the Los Angeles Times Book Review. Ostriker considered Oliver “among the few American poets who can describe and transmit ecstasy, while retaining a practical awareness of the world as one of predators and prey.” For Ostriker, Dream Work is ultimately a volume in which Oliver moves “from the natural world and its desires, the ‘heaven of appetite’…into the world of historical and personal suffering…She confronts as well, steadily,” Ostriker continued, “what she cannot change.”

The transition from engaging the natural world to engaging more personal realms is also evident in New and Selected Poems (1992), which won the National Book Award.The volume contains poems from eight of Oliver’s previous volumes as well as previously unpublished, newer work. Susan Salter Reynolds, in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, noticed that Oliver’s earliest poems are almost always oriented towards nature, but seldom examine the self and are almost never personal. In contrast, Oliver appears constantly in later works. But as Reynolds noted “this self-consciousness is a rich and graceful addition.” Just as the contributor for Publishers Weekly called particular attention to the pervasive tone of amazement with regard to things seen in Oliver’s work, Reynolds found Oliver’s writings to have a “Blake-eyed revelatory quality.” Oliver summed up her desire for amazement in her poem “When Death Comes” from New and Selected Poems: “When it’s over, I want to say: all my life / I was a bride married to amazement. / I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.”

Oliver continues her celebration of the natural world in later collections, includingWinter Hours: Prose, Prose Poems, and Poems (1999), Why I Wake Early (2004),New and Selected Poems, Volume 2 (2004), and Swan: Poems and Prose Poems(2010). Critics have compared Oliver to other great American lyric poets and celebrators of nature, including Marianne Moore, Elizabeth Bishop, Edna St. Vincent Millay, John Muir, and Walt Whitman. “Oliver’s poetry,” wrote Poetry contributorRichard Tillinghast in a review of White Pine (1994) “floats above and around the schools and controversies of contemporary American poetry. Her familiarity with the natural world has an uncomplicated, nineteenth-century feeling.”

A prolific writer of both poetry and prose, Oliver publishes a new collection every year or two. Her main themes continue to be the intersection between the human and the natural world, as well as the limits of human consciousness and language in articulating such a meeting. Jeanette McNew in Contemporary Literature described “Oliver’s visionary goal,” as “constructing a subjectivity that does not depend on separation from a world of objects. Instead, she respectfully confers subjecthood on nature, thereby modeling a kind of identity that does not depend on opposition for definition…At its most intense, her poetry aims to peer beneath the constructions of culture and reason that burden us with an alienated consciousness to celebrate the primitive, mystical visions that reveal ‘a mossy darkness – / a dream that would never breathe air / and was hinged to your wildest joy / like a shadow.’”

Mary Oliver held the Catharine Osgood Foster Chair for Distinguished Teaching at Bennington College until 2001. In addition to such major awards as the Pulitzer and National Book Award, Oliver has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. She has also won the American Academy of Arts & Letters Award, the Poetry Society of America’s Shelley Memorial Prize and Alice Fay di Castagnola Award. She lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

[Updated 2010]


Fine Arts Work Center, Provincetown, MA, chair of writing department, 1972-73, member of writing committee, 1984; Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH, Mather Visiting Professor, 1980, 1982; Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA, poet-in-residence, 1986; University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH, Elliston Visiting Professor, 1986; Sweet Briar College, Sweet Briar, VA, Margaret Banister Writer-in-Residence, 1991-95; Bennington College, Bennington, VT, Catharine Osgood Foster Chair for Distinguished Teaching, 1996—2001.



  • No Voyage, and Other Poems, Dent (New York, NY), 1963, expanded edition, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1965.
  • The River Styx, Ohio, and Other Poems, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1972.
  • The Night Traveler, Bits Press, 1978.
  • Twelve Moons, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1978.
  • Sleeping in the Forest, Ohio Review Chapbook, 1979.
  • American Primitive, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1983.
  • Dream Work, Atlantic Monthly Press (Boston, MA), 1986.
  • Provincetown, Appletree Alley, 1987.
  • House of Light, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 1990.
  • New and Selected Poems, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 1992.
  • White Pine: Poems and Prose Poems, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1994.
  • Blue Pastures, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1995.
  • West Wind: Poems and Prose Poems, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1997.
  • Winter Hours: Prose, Prose Poems, and Poems, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1999.
  • The Leaf and the Cloud, Da Capo (Cambridge, MA), 2000.
  • What Do We Know, Da Capo (Cambridge, MA), 2002.
  • Why I Wake Early, Beacon (Boston, MA), 2004.
  • Boston Iris: Poems and Essays, Beacon (Boston, MA), 2004.
  • New and Selected Poems, Volume Two, Beacon (Boston, MA), 2004.
  • Thirst: Poems, Beacon (Boston, MA), 2006.
  • Our World, (with photographer Molly Malone), Beacon (Boston, MA), 2007.
  • Red Bird, Beacon (Boston, MA), 2008.
  • Evidence, Beacon (Boston, MA), 2009.
  • Swan: Poems and Prose Poems, Beacon (Boston, MA), 2010.


  • (Author of introduction) Frank Gaspar, Holyoke, Northeastern University Press, 1988.
  • A Poetry Handbook, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1994.
  • Rules for the Dance: A Handbook for Writing and Reading Metrical Verse, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1998.
  • Long Life: Essays and Other Writings, Da Capo (Cambridge, MA), 2004.
  • (Audio CD) At Blackwater Pond: Mary Oliver Reads Mary Oliver, Beacon (Boston, MA), 2006.
  • (Audio CD) Many Miles: Mary Oliver Reads Mary Oliver, Beacon (Boston, MA), 2010.


Contributor of poetry and essays to periodicals in England and the United States.



  • Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 19, 1981, Volume 98, 1998.
  • Contemporary Literary Criticism Yearbook 1984, Volume 34, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1985.
  • Contemporary Poets, 6th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
  • Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 5: American Poets since World War II, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1980.
  • Oliver, Mary, New and Selected Poems, Beacon Press, 1992.


  • America, January 13, 1996, David Sofield, review of White Pine: Poems and Prose Poems.
  • Booklist, July, 1994, Pat Monaghan, review of A Poetry Handbook, p. 1916; November 15, 1994, Donna Seaman, review of White Pine, p. 574; June 1, 1997, Donna Seaman, review of West Wind: Poems and Prose Poems, p. 1648; June 1, 1998, Donna Seaman, review of Rules for the Dance: A Handbook for Writing and Reading Metrical Verse, p. 1708; March 15, 1999, Donna Seaman, review of Winter Hours, p. 1279; September 1, 2000, Donna Seaman, review of The Leaf and the Cloud, p. 58; March 15, 2004, Donna Seaman, review of Long Life: Essays and Other Writings, p. 1259.
  • Globe & Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), August 23, 1986.
  • Library Journal, July, 1997, Ellen Kaufman, review of West Wind, p. 87; August, 1998, Lisa J. Cihlar, review ofRules for the Dance, p. 104; December, 2000, Louis McKee, review of The Leaf and the Cloud, p. 145; December, 2003, Judy Clarence, review of Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays, p. 125; May 1, 2004, Kim Harris, review of Long Life, p. 107.
  • Los Angeles Times Book Review, August 21, 1983, p. 9; February 22, 1987, p. 8; August 30, 1992, p. 6.
  • Nation, August 30, 1986, pp. 148-150.
  • New York Times Book Review, July 17, 1983, pp. 10, 22; November 25, 1990, p. 24; December 13, 1992, p. 12.
  • Poetry, May, 1987, p. 113; September, 1991, p. 342; July, 1993, David Barber, review of New and Selected Poems, p. 233; August, 1995, Richard Tillinghast, review of White Pine, p. 289; August, 1999, Christian Wiman, review of Rules for the Dance, p. 286.
  • Publishers Weekly, May 4, 1990, p. 62; August 10, 1992, p. 58; June 6, 1994, review of A Poetry Handbook, p. 62; October 31, 1994, review of White Pine, p. 54; August 7, 1995, review of Blue Pastures, p. 457; June 30, 1997, review of West Wind, p. 73; March 29, 1999, review of Winter Hours: Prose, Prose Poems, and Poems, p. 100; August 28, 2000, review of The Leaf and the Cloud, p. 79; July 21, 2003, review of Owls and Other Fantasies, p. 188.
  • Washington Post Book World, February 1, 1987, p. 6.
  • Whole Earth Review, summer, 1995, Wade Fox, review of A Poetry Handbook, p. 30.
  • Women’s Review of Books, April, 1993.

Mallows Bay marine sanctuary nomination approved:


 mallows kayaking

Mallows Bay in Nanjemoy is one step closer on a long journey toward nomination as a National Marine Sanctuary by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

On the Potomac River, Mallows Bay is where hundreds of World War I-era surplus wooden boats were sunk for disposal. A variety of wildlife and plants call the boats home.  Mallows Bay would be the only National Marine Sanctuary in the Washington, D.C., region if approved for sanctuary status.

“The case is extremely strong for Mallows Bay,” said Samuel P. Orlando Jr., chief of the conservation science division of the Office of National Marine Sanctuary for NOAA.  Mallows Bay is the first successful nomination considered by NOAA since the nomination process closed approximately 20 years ago due to lack of community support to create nominations, Orlando said.  He said the nomination process does not contain a deadline date and each nomination is evaluated based on its merit, but Mallows Bay joined NOAA’s inventory in the fall as a successful nomination.  NOAA declined nominations for the Aleutian Islands of Alaska and Eubalaena Oculina of Florida, and still is considering a nomination for Lake Michigan.

The local support for Mallows Bay was encouraging and exciting for NOAA, Orlando said. NOAA received letters of support from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Charles County Chamber of Commerce, Conservancy for Charles County, College of Southern Maryland, the Historical Society of Charles County, Charles County Public Schools Superintendent Kimberly A. Hill and some Charles County residents.

Criteria considered for a successful nomination include four areas of national significance, such as a site’s natural resources and ecological qualities, submerged maritime heritage resources, opportunities for public recreation, and present and potential economic uses. Nominations also are considered based on seven areas of management criteria, including the site’s potential for marine research and educational opportunities, conservation value and community-based support, according to NOAA’s website.

“[Support for Mallows Bay] is typical of what we would expect to see from future nominations,” Orlando said.  Mallows Bay also was selected for NOAA’s inventory based on its “heritage-based resource,” recreational access and educational opportunities.  Orlando said members of NOAA’s nominations committee are excited about the dialogue of considering the nomination of Mallows Bay as a National Marine Sanctuary.

Tom Roland, chief of parks and grounds for the Charles County Department of Public Works, said the land known as Mallows Bay was acquired in 2002 by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and three land trust groups. Work has since been done to protect its shoreline area, and community efforts began in 2008 to contact NOAA and obtain national recognition for the site.  Roland said he could not say anyone was thinking of marine sanctuary status in 2008, “but it’s certainly a tremendous fit and a step forward.”

Roland said marine sanctuary status could open up future opportunities for Mallows Bay — which is now a county park with recreational access for county residents — such as plans to expand inland hiking trails….

Roland said the Charles County commissioners have endorsed to county staff the possibility of Mallows Bay obtaining marine sanctuary status and “are extremely excited” for the opportunity, which would bring not only county residents more opportunities, but also residents in the Chesapeake Bay area.

The sanctuary system began in 1962. The first sanctuary was the USS Monitor, a Civil War ironclad ship sunk off the coast of North Carolina. NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary list contains 14 sites in the U.S., and includes 47 vessels, seven visitor centers, eight major exhibits, 14 field sites, four regional offices and the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation.

….When the U.S. Navy sunk a fleet of ships more than 100 years ago,  (Commissioner Vice President Ken) Robinson said it probably had no idea that history would be preserved and the fleet would create a reef for aquatic life.  “It’s been a win-win situation because we likely otherwise would not have” Mallows Bay, Robinson said.  Mallows Bay is the only site so far chosen by NOAA to move forward in the nomination process and the “only one likely to receive it in the next two years or so,” Robinson said….National Marine Sanctuary status by NOAA would mean Mallows Bay “will always be here” and be protected.

 Rebecca J. Barnabi Staff Writer


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Joan of Arc

I know this now. Every man gives his life for what he believes. Every woman gives her life for what she believes. Sometimes people believe in little or nothing yet they give their lives to that little or nothing. One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. And then it is gone. But to sacrifice what you are and live without belief, that's more terrible than dying.--

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February 2015
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On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

John O'Donohue, Echoes of Memory


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