Nature’s inspiration


duane highleyI think that I shall never see, a poem lovely as a tree.” — Joyce Kilmer.

If there is one thing that Arkansas has in abundance, it’s trees. Maybe that’s part of the reason why we also happen to have such friendly people.

CD-old-tree-1-200If you’re like most folks in The Natural State, when you step outside you’ll be greeted by an awe-inspiring sight. According to the Arkansas Forestry Association, Arkansas is blessed with 18.8 million acres of forest — 56 percent of the total land area of the state. So, if you were to randomly parachute into Arkansas from a passing airplane, chances are better than ever that you will land in a forest. My recommendation: Plan your jump in advance!

When I travel across this state I am amazed at the beautiful landscapes. I am also amazed that sometimes the people who live in the midst of this beauty become so accustomed to it that they forget to notice it. But noticing the beauty that surrounds us is one way to tap into a source of energy that leads to better behavior, more peace, more love and better understanding. That may sound grandiloquent, but I’m not making this up; there is research to prove it.

In a paper titled “Awe, the Small Self, and Prosocial Behavior,” researchers in the United States and Canada discovered a connection between helpfulness and the appreciation of the natural beauty of giant trees. In their study, research subjects who spent just one minute gazing up at tall trees were later more helpful to a stranger than subjects who had spent a minute gazing at a building. They concluded that by focusing on natural beauty, the induced feelings of awe seem to make people less likely to focus on themselves and more likely to take action to improve the welfare of others.

As a resident of The Natural State, you will find no shortage of awe-inspiring views — the stars in the night sky, the vista from a mountaintop or the mist rising from a river. I encourage you to step outside today and spend one deliberate minute looking up and around. I’ll bet you’ll find this will brighten your mood and lighten your burdens. It might even help to make you a more generous and loving person — something this world sorely needs.

I started this column with a quotation from Joyce Kilmer. I have read that quotation, the first line of the poem, many times, but had never read the entire poem. For the record, I found it awe-inspiring. Here it is:


I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

— Poetry magazine, August 1913