Absolutely spellbinding, timely and topical for today’s society. As we’re bombarded daily by technology, multi-tasking, and man-made devices, we often forget to commune with what’s in front of us: nature.
STEP INTO NATURE is a beautifully written guide to help you replenish your connection to the natural earth, while at the same time sharpening your creative skills and inspiring motivation. It’s almost like THE WAR OF ART (Pressfield) on a natural high. Vecchione will take you on a personal journey of reflection with her practical advice laced with her poetic narrative. When you empty your pockets at the end of reading, I am almost sure you’ll find a sparkly rock, a feather, and tiny grains of sand when you do.
I’d like to say I’m sitting next to her listening to the waves crash at Big Sur—my personal song—but alas we are separated by miles, a different time zone, and an entirely different climate.
Leslie Lindsay: Patrice, thank you so very much for being with us today. The back cover blurb goes something like this, “Consider this book a companion. Dog-ear the pages. Let sand get in. Nature accepts us exactly how we are—bedazzled or bedraggled, lonely or lively, willful, or wistful. Wander for a little while, and wonder what will take hold.” And I love that! And I did that—dog-ear the pages, that is—there’s just a wealth of practical advice here. What ultimately inspired you to write STEP INTO NATURE? Please tell me it was nature herself!
Patrice Vecchione: Yes, you’re right, nature herself inspired me. I used to be a distance road bicyclist, bare to the air—loved going fast down hills and pulling hard up them, covering 20, 30, 50 miles in a morning. But I injured my neck and was unable to continue riding. What to do? Go to a gym for exercise? Hardly appealing.
Near my home is a 900-acre wood. I took to the forest, placing one sneaker-clad foot in front of the other, for the banal reason of getting my heart rate up, to feel my breath quicken stride upon stride, and to be outdoors. Then something happened that I would have never anticipated—the trees began whispering to me. Mind you, not in the way that humans do, but in the way of leaves rubbing together, and within that sound my imagination heard more than just rubbing leaves, it got awakened as never before, and my writing began to come with less effort; the art-making did as well. Out of so many walks the idea for Step into Nature came. The book was purchased by Simon & Schuster/Beyond Words from a proposal, so not only did nature give me the initial inspiration, she inspired the entire process, the six short months, I spent writing it.
L.L.: I have to admit that I am insanely jealous of your California residence. California, to me is the U.S. equivalent to Italy, and I am deliciously in love with all that is Italian. What might you tell someone who lives in a place that is less-ideal, say North Dakota or the far reaches of Minnesota, or a bustling city like New York? How do we get truly enjoy nature—even if it’s out of reach, or simply too dangerous, or bitter?
Patrice Vecchione: Nature isn’t far and we don’t have to face the wind for hours in a snowstorm in order to be out there in it. Even short forays out into the elemental world will inspire. The imagination and spirit are fortified by even bits of nature, small enclaves—a city park, a backyard, the riverbank that borders town. It’s funny that you mention New York City as I’m on a plane heading there right now. Though I love the rush and excitement of the city, the art museums and bookstores, I’m never in New York long before I find myself walking toward Central Park or another bordered bit of open space. Central Park and Ft. Tryon Park were two of the first places where, as I child where I was introduced to nature.
Nature is everywhere; that’s what all our human stuff stands on. Feeling far from her, just stop and look up at the sky to view a wide expanse or a narrow culvert between buildings: Nature.
L.L.: As an artist, do you identify most with poetry because it is language of nature, or nature of language?
Patrice Vecchione: In effect, my first language was poetry. Before I was born, and nearly until her death, my mother recited poems to me. From her I learned the beauty and music of language, poetry’s power to go deep with few words, that language could bring the faraway near, make the unfamiliar recognizable. From my father and my New York City Italian family I learned another kind of poetry that language can be—the staccato of force and rapidity, the beauty of cacophony. Though Step into Nature is nonfiction prose, not poetry, a number of people, my editor included, have remarked that it is a poetic book, and that makes me really happy.
L.L.: What might you say is the greatest reason to connect with nature?
Patrice Vecchione: We come from the earth. That’s our first place. Once upon a time everyone lived close to nature; they had no choice. When we return we reconnect with the essence of who we are. Doing so can restore our hearts and minds, slow us down, free us from our screens, lessen the weight of life’s difficulties, reinvigorate our imaginations and enliven our spirits. Oops, that’s kind of more than one reason, but kind of not.
L.L.: Can you give us some examples of how non-creatives can tap into their latent creativity by simply reconnecting with nature?
Patrice Vecchione: Non-creatives? No such thing! We all use our imaginations everyday—what blouse to wear with those slacks? How to phrase a marriage proposal? What to make for dinner? One of the first things to do is to begin to notice how your imagination is a part of your life, how it serves you, even in the simplest ways, and then to build on that. The imagination is partial to being tickled behind the knees!
If you go out into nature, even that small neighborhood park, you’ll likely find the demands of the day scooching to the background, at least a little bit. The balance of priorities will shift; the air gets in and moves around, rearranging the to-do lists. There’s freedom in that, space into which your ability to observe will heighten. Your senses will come to the fore—what do you see at the base of that tree over there? Who’s is scurrying in the upper branches? The sound coming from a distance, is it water or wind? The smell of pine needles may rekindle childhood memories. How else might I solve this problem?
I’m not much of a meditator; I like to move; I encourage people to walk, not hard and fast, but slow and easy, and to allow thoughts to drift. As I write in Step into Nature, “The mind thinks differently when the feet are in motion.”
Bring a notebook to jot down what you see, hear, and generally experience. You don’t have to stay out long if the day’s responsibilities are calling, but come back, and do it again. Your imagination will be glad you did!
L.L.: As a writer, I am going to guess that you are a “pantser,” that is, you don’t follow a rigid outline. In fact, I think you give reference to that in STEP INTO NATURE, that allowing nature to take over your creative mind, you often drum up some really unique art form, a sentence, or line of poetry. Can you expand on that, please?
Patrice Vecchione: That’s a new term to me, a panster! I made an outline before I began writing the book and then as I wrote the outline changed and change again. My job was to follow where the essence of the book was leading and to trust myself as a writer, as an imaginer. The imagination throws out a bunch of what-ifs. I find that writing is like following a lead, like walking down a curvy path. What if I go this way? If I take that turn where might I end up? If I’d held rigidly to my original plan, the book would have turned out rigid too, and less authentic.
L.L.: I understand you teach poetry to children. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Patrice Vecchione: When I was 19-years-old I began teaching poetry to children and have worked as a poet-in-the-schools for many years, not as a credentialed teacher, but as a poet. I come into classrooms kindergarten through high school to encourage children to follow their own ideas when it comes to writing, to not worry about making sense, to flee predictability, to take chances and let themselves be surprised by what they write. I read them poems from around the world, from various points in history, and then we get very quiet and we listen inside and outside and we write. It’s one of the few ways children get a chance to reflect these days, to pull back from the requirements put upon them, and then to be listened to, closely.
L.L.: What is obsessing you now and why?
Patrice Vecchione: My father died several months ago. I’m not obsessed by grief but it sure does have my attention. Beyond that Step into Nature continues to wholly engage me. I did a 10-city book tour and I continue to offer workshops and give talks based on the book. Lately I’ve been offering workshops through libraries for people to come and make their own nature journals. We collage the fronts and past pocket at the back to hold nature–finds.
There’s a new book churning inside me but it’s too soon to talk about that.
Oh, and one more obsession, as it were: I’m offering a Step into Nature Spring Writing Retreat at a gorgeous retreat center in Santa Barbara hills, May 11 – 15. There are a few openings.
L.L.: What might I have forgotten to ask, that you’d like to share?
Patrice Vecchione: You asked such great questions, Leslie! What could I possibly add, except to say, I write a monthly blog about nature and imagination that often includes inspirations of various kinds. More about that at patricevecchione.com.
During the month of December I’ll have copies of Step into Nature available as signed books for holiday gifts and will include a chapbook I’ve just completed about making art with my father at the end of his life. Those interested can get in touch: Patrice@patricevecchione.com.
L.L.: Patrice, it was an absolute pleasure having you pop over today. Thank you!
Patrice Vecchione: Here I am on this plane, hurtling through space, but thanks to you, Leslie, your great questions, I found myself—my imagination and spirit—out walking along Lower Ridge Road at Jacks Peak park in Monterey. Thanks so much!
Connect with Patrice on social media:
- Twitter: @VecchioneAuthor
Author bio: About Patrice Vecchione’s new book Step into Nature: Nurturing Imagination and Spirit in Everyday Life, the poet Jane Hirshfield said, “Step into Nature illumines the intimate connection between inner and outer, contemplative and wild, and shows the reasons these matter.” She’s also the author of Writing and the Spiritual Life, about which The Writer magazine said, “Trust the voice of Patrice Vecchione,” and two collections of poetry. The editor of many acclaimed anthologies for children and young people, these titles include Whisper & Shout: Poems to Memorize, Truth & Lies, and The Body Eclectic. Patrice offers creative writing and collage workshops—inside and out—at universities, libraries, parks, and community and spiritual centers. In the spring of 2016 she will offer a 5-day Step into Step into Nature Writing Retreat at a retreat center in the gorgeous Santa Barbara hills. Patrice lives in Monterey, California with her best beloveds—her husband, two cats, and a garden often in bloom. patricevecchione.com
[Author and cover images courtesy of Patrice Vechhione. Nature images retrieved from author’s website under “blog” and are not my own images. Please visit patricevecchione.com to read Patrice’s thoughts on these images and how they have enhanced her walk with nature.]