• Catherine White

Vibing with Cat White

April Brings Celebrations of Nature and Poetry


I, like Tanglewood Nature Center & Museum’s Ryan Donnelly, grew up surrounded by nature, which, I think, was the foundation for my appreciation of (almost) all the wild things.


I lived a good part of my youth in Hoffman Plaza on Bonview Street in Elmira. The football fields of Elmira Free Academy (now Ernie Davis Academy) were behind the complex, and a creek and wooded hill lay beyond the apartment complex. I spent many days with the other neighborhood kids, playing throughout “The Plaza” and the wooded areas of West Elmira behind it.


My dad used to lecture us on the benefits of a reflective walk in the woods long before I ever heard of the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing”. Whenever I felt anxious, angry or sad, a walk in the woods behind the housing project always seemed to calm me down.


Harris Hill and Tanglewood Nature Center & Museum were also close by, and the adults in my life often took us kids to those inexpensive yet entertaining local attractions to keep us occupied. Watkins Glen State Park, and its scenic outdoor pool was another spot frequently visited. Those scenic trips to “The Glen” often included a stop at the local chicken barbecue roadside stand or The Great Escape Homemade Ice Cream Parlor (my favorite) along the town’s main road.


When we moved to Austin, TX, I was relieved to find as many affordable and beautiful outdoor attractions as there had been in my hometown region. There are so many parks, hiking trails and walkways in and around Central Texas, most of which are pet-friendly.


I was also surprised to learn when I moved here that the well-known saying “Don’t Mess with Texas” was an environmentally-conscious message NOT some aggressive, macho-posturing slogan meant to boast the might of the 28th state in the Union. The anti-littering campaign began in the mid-1980s and has featured southern spokespersons like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Willie Nelson and, most recently, Matthew McConaughey. As a matter of fact, Texas’ beloved Lady Bird Johnson was an avid environmental activist whose outspoken campaign for The Highway Beautification Act of 1965 initiative, helped its passage.


Central Texas is, currently, well into spring, with flower blossoms and tree buds blooming everywhere, despite a drought. I’ve been enjoying the bright hues of Texas wildflowers and tender tree buds on my dog walks but, I’m troubled by the trash I’ve seen marring nature’s beauty. Fast food containers, plastic bottles and face masks litter the parks, trails, sidewalks and open spaces on our daily walks. It saddens me to see the beautiful natural spaces around us trashed with human garbage.


Photos by Catherine White. Nature and junk: the view on my dog walks throughout my Texas neighborhood.


Earth Day is Friday, April 22 and there are plenty of community clean-up events taking place throughout the area over the next few weeks as the region shakes off the last winter chill and welcomes warmth to the Southern Tier. Whether you participate in Chemung River Friends Virtual Earth Week Clean-up by picking up the trash you find in your own neighborhood (#FCRWEarthWeek2022) or volunteer to help spruce up the trails at Tanglewood Nature Center & Museum Saturday, April 23; or sign-up for the annual beautification of downtown Elmira on May 7, there are so many ways to respect and celebrate the Southern Tier’s environment. You can find some of them via the Southern Tier Life Events page.


If you DO participate in any clean-up events and would like to share "before and after" photos of your cleanup, and why you think it’s important to keep the Southern Tier pristine, please email info.southerntierlife@gmail.com with your contact information by May 7.

 

April is also National Poetry Month and Southern Tier Life has been recognizing it with a series of columns from Corning poet Aleathia Drehmer, who will MC an Open Mic Poetry Night on April 28 at Card Carrying Books & Gifts in Corning. Her pieces have inspired me.


While I haven’t written “creatively” in awhile, I’m a big fan of poetry. I suspect my love began with the tongue-twisting rhymes of Dr. Seuss and the intuitive, weird and wonderful works of Shel Silverstein. Both are in my Top 10 list of authors and reading them still delights me.


As I got older, the 1960s and the creative awakenings that took place during that generation really intrigued me. I enjoyed the works of revolutionary free-flowing, controversial poets like Allen Ginsberg,The Last Poets and Gil Scott-Heron. When I became more self-aware, I fell in love with female poets like Gwendolyn Brooks and Maya Angelou.


Poetry is a versatile form of communication that can awaken anyone’s creativity.

While I do enjoy writing silly rhymes when I’m bored, one of my favorite forms of poetry is Haiku, a traditional Japanese short-form poetry, usually about nature, that I learned about in grade school.


I used to love swinging in my hammock in the backyard, coming up with haikus that expressed my absolute relaxation and pleasure in those moments of peace.


clouds float gently by

as warm breezes kiss flushed skin

sun shares its life force


The “rules” of haiku make creating them challenging and fun. If you ever feel mentally or emotionally blocked, try writing a haiku. They don’t have to be particularly good (as you can see) but they can spark creativity and help lift those blocks that can frustrate and weigh on our minds.


Reading Aleathia Drehmer’s poetry submissions this month have had me searching for ways to continue including the format on the website. I welcome your ideas and suggestions. Stay tuned!


Get involved

Poets from the Southern Tier who’d like to share their work, their thoughts and/or their process are encouraged to email info.southerntierlife@gmail.com with their interest.

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