In his poem “Any Morning,” William Stafford describes himself as “Just lying on the couch
and being happy.” He wryly comments that the troubles of the world can go on without him
for awhile. He’s simply enjoying a time of contentment.
In Riverwalking, Kathleen Dean Moore writes about something similar, only it’s more
intentional. She refers to it as “poking around.” Moore writes: “… the kind of poking around I
am advocating must be done outdoors. It is a matter of going to the land to pay close
attention, to pry at things with the toe of a boot, to turn over rocks at the edge of a stream
and lift boards to look for snakes or the nests of silky deer mice… People who poke around
have seeds in their socks and rocks in their pockets. They measure things with the span of
their hands. They look into the sun when they see a shadow pass across a field. …Often they
stand still for a long time, listening, and then they follow the sound, sneaky as a heron, until
they are close enough to see a chickadee knocking on wood like a tiny woodpecker. … Of
course, there are no rules about this, and some people prefer to keep their minds engaged
while they’re poking around. If so, the most fitting kinds of mental activity I have found are
wondering and hoping.”
Then she warns that poking around is not as easy as it sounds: “You have to drive out ideas
that will dampen your spirits or dim your vision: a desk on Monday morning, the dentist’s bill.
You have to be alert or you will find yourself sucked away by a work ethic as strong as a
Maybe poking around is a preparation for the stillness of contemplative prayer because it
slows us down, opens us up to wonder, and lessens our need to hurry through things.
Getting into the habit of “poking around” could also alleviate some of the distress of being
non-productive when recovering from an extended illness or experiencing the slower pace
that comes with the later years of life. Could it be that the Creator in the Genesis story was
just “poking around” after all that work of gestating an evolving universe? (“God looked at
everything that was made and found it very good.”) I smile when I think about that.
It has been said that writers are directing their thoughts to themselves as much as to their
readers. In my case, this theory rings true. I usually have a good amount of energy, both
physical and mental. The down side is the voice in me that insists I continually have
“something to show for my efforts”—the need to be useful—a message instilled in my
youth and reinforced when entering a religious community. I was urged to be “busy,” a
term that now culturally implies the more actively, over-extended a person is the greater
their importance and value. To this notion I reply, “Phooey.”
When I poke around in the woods, libraries, and even in my own old journals before I toss
them out, I feel contented. Poking around releases the push to “do.” In this era with endless
news of human distress and natural disasters, poking around is not only a diversion, it
provides relief. It restores hope and brings forth amazement and gratitude. This is how
poking around influences my spirit. I hope it creates something similar for yours.