Poems from the Wilderness
by Jack Mayer
Proverse Hong Kong

"How humbling to carry everything
on my back,
for no human voice
to scatter the sanctity."

This moving collection of poems immerses the reader in the natural world and expounds on the solace and solitude that comes from hiking countless miles on trails through wilderness, mountains, and forests. Mayer contemplates the intersection of metaphysics, physics, and spirit as he observes nature on his many hikes along Vermont’s Long Trail, parts of the Appalachian Trail, and through the White Mountains. With stunning imagery, his poems transport the reader to a world of trees, plants, and birds through the seasons. He also digs into his own life and work as a doctor and hospice volunteer, allowing meditations on healing and death to enter alongside his experiences on the trail. He follows a long tradition of poets and thinkers who seek in nature the truth of the human condition.

Divided into five sections, the collection moves harmoniously through the terrain of the forest and the trail, exploring philosophy, religion, history, and memory. Mayer contemplates more than just the scenery and the reverie it inspires; he also expounds on the beauty and miracle of science with poems about Einstein, dark matter, and the God particle. He entwines the majestic mysteries of life with scientific knowledge and discovery, finding himself and his own truths about life in these two studies. Nature, it seems for the author, is the perfect laboratory for exploring both wonder and science. His thoughtful, intelligent observations from the “cosmological wilderness” reveal not only the invisible winds, footfalls, and crinkling dead leaves but also an understanding of desire, grace, and frailty.

While hiking, Mayer fully embodies the Mountain Poet, which is the trail name he acquires and, with it, an identity that he embraces, for his writing life is tied tightly to his life on the trails. In one poem, he offers gratitude for nature’s inspiration:

“As ‘Mountain Poet,’
I thank the earth for this
astounding writing desk,
this palette of water colours,
mist today, hard sun tomorrow.”

This communion with nature on the trail that Mayer eloquently calls his “enduring house of worship” provides wisdom and revelations and showcases the enduring bond between humans and the natural world. Fans of poet Mary Oliver will find a similar voice extolling nature in the author’s poetry. Just as Oliver found respite and reward by observing the landscape she loved, so Mayer finds and reveals the startling truths to be found on the trails that he loves and on which he has traveled so many miles. Like Oliver, Mayer sees all of nature as a metaphor for the human condition. For example, the first poem of the collection explores the search for self while on the trail out in nature, away from expectations and the influence of others.

Mayer’s work also complements the works of writers who have written prose and poetry about walking as a means of understanding. Robert Macfarlane, Rebecca Solnit, and even Henry David Thoreau have all written about the meditative power of walking. Mayer joins this tribe of writing walkers with his own poems from the wilderness.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

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