This short and stirring paragraph comes right at the end of Upstream, Mary Oliver’s first essay in a collection of shorts that express her life’s trajectory towards nurturing and developing her creative spirit, always in intimate conversation with herself and with nature. It expresses the imperative need to nurture our own relationships with nature and to teach our children the same. It’s this respect and curiosity that fires up the attention that Oliver calls ‘the beginning of devotion’.
Teach the children. We don’t matter so much, but the children do. Show them daisies and the pale hepatica. Teach them the taste of sassafras and wintergreen. The lives of the blue sailors, mallow, sunbursts, the moccasin flowers. And the frisky ones—inkberry, lamb’s-quarters, blueberries. And the aromatic ones—rosemary, oregano. Give them peppermint to put in their pockets as they go to school. Give them the fields and the woods and the possibility of the world salvaged from the lords of profit. Stand them in the stream, head them upstream, rejoice as they learn to love this green space they live in, its sticks and leaves and then the silent, beautiful blossoms.
Attention is the beginning of devotion.
Mary Oliver (1935-2019)
From – Upstream: Selected Essays