Haiku Lessons part 4 – Nature Exercise

March 2002

WHCschools – Hibiscus Petals: Nature Exercise

WHCschools Traditional Western Haiku School
Ferris Gilli, Hibiscus School Instructor

On May 2, 2001, Mrs. Gilli presented the following Nature Exercise:

Go out and sit on a log, stump, bench, swing, old tire, tree limb, big rock, or on the ground — whatever feels right to you. Then, doodle in a notebook what you experience.  Use all your senses, if you can.  Be quiet and alert.  See.  Hear.  Feel.  Smell.  Taste.  Touch.

Focus.  Look from the sky to the ground.  From the horizon to where you’re sitting.  What other creatures are there with you?  Does the squirrel eat the acorn or bury it?  Are those ants going in a straight line?  Is that a spider web between those tree limbs?  Is it new or torn?  What is in the web?  Does it move in a breeze, or is it perfectly still?  Listen for bird calls . . . can you name the birds?

Be very still and listen– there is never pure silence.

Are those faint sounds carried on the breeze man-made or from nature?  Is the breeze warm or cool?  Close your eyes and become part of your surroundings, let the air and sunshine (or rain) and fragrances move around you and “through” you.  Imagine that you are not human, and you don’t live in a human dwelling unless you are some kind of pet, or a creature that humans call “pest.”

What kind of creature are you?  Do you bask in the sun, or hide from it — sing in the rain, or seek shelter?  If a human approaches, what do you do?  Perhaps you’re so small, you’re hardly noticed.  Where do you look for food — might you become food for a predator?   Do you use camouflage or flaunt your colors?  What natural thing might you do that would make a human being stare in wonder?  Imagine that you suddenly need to hide.  Look around — where can you go, what can you do?  Is your heart racing?  Perhaps you’re now hiding in the shadows beneath a hydrangea bush.  Hello! Something else is there too, being still. You are both very quiet in your leafy shelter. What do you hear?

Now return to being human. Go to a tree and press your cheek and hands against it (go ahead and hug it if you like–squirrels and lizards do!), stroke the bark with your fingertips.  Focus.  Is it dry or moist or lichen-covered?  Rough or smooth?  Inhale its smell — is it dusty, does it smell sharply of sap or resin?  Can you peer behind a piece of bark like a woodpecker looking for bugs?  Focus.  Look straight up through the branches — can you see clear to the sky?  Look at the whole canopy.  Now look at one branch; now at only one leaf or needle.  Is there a hole in the leaf?  Does it look chewed?  Is there a drop of resin on the needle?  Do you know what it tastes like to bite into a green pine needle?  I do.

Be very still and listen to the tree.  What is its voice?  Listen.  A faint tapping, a tiny scratching . . . insects . . . wind . . . a bird.  Leaves rustling, or long green needles swishing, prickling your skin.  Perhaps a piece of bark moves slowly away from your hand on the tree — a snout beetle!

Go out and become absorbed in nature, and focus closer and closer, smaller and smaller; and then come back with your notes and write fresh haiku.  Of course, you don’t have to “get close” to the exact things I mentioned — you can try this anywhere — near or on water, in a field, in a barn, lying in the grass, on the beach, on the porch, in a chicken yard, at the zoo, whatever you feel drawn to.

If for some reason, you can’t go outside, turn this into an inside exercise.  Go into your favorite room and sit.  Focus.  What does the room smell like?  Furniture polish, dust, food, hamster droppings, baby powder?  Look in the corners for spider webs.   Maybe there are tiny insect husks, a spider’s leftovers.  If there is a closed window, what can you see through it?  Hear through it?  Feel through it?  Look at the floor and note whether it is shiny, dusty, or scuffed.  If it’s carpet, is it new, worn, faded, thick pile, threadbare?  Notice whether the pattern is bright, boring, colorful, monochrome, flowered, or geometric.  How does it feel to your bare feet?  “Feel” the room as if this is your first time in it; decide how it might look or “feel” to a stranger.

If you have a pet, go near it and focus.  Does it watch you closely or ignore you?  Does it respond to your touch?  Try to get close enough to feel its breath on your hand or face.  Can you feel its heartbeat?  It’s ribs? Perhaps it’s a lizard or snake.  Have you ever felt a snake’s tongue flick against your skin?  I have.

There is a saying, “No matter where you go, there you are.”  Just be there, and observe with all your senses.  Make notes, write two or three sentences about each observation.  Then cut away all but the haiku.  Now is when you work at it carefully as a craft.  Pay attention to real content — including the experience of little things, little truths. You will very likely discover something new about an ordinary thing or event; or you will gain new insight from something familiar or from an everyday occurrence.  Remember to use focus; make every word count; eschew clutter and redundancy.  Be concise and very clear.  Avoid abstractions, don’t be vague.  Value juxtaposition.

Write so that your haiku speaks to your readers’ senses.  Make them smell the damp earth or burnt biscuits, hear the beetle clicking, or the stove ticking as it cools, see the dark rainbow in a grackle’s wing, dust motes in a shaft of sunlight, feel the warmth of the sunbeam that illuminates one bloom in a rose-patterned rug.

To complete the Nature Exercise, participants were asked to post up to four haiku using only eleven words or less.  During a feedback session, the instructor posted commentaries on at least one poem by each poet, giving poets the opportunity to respond with discussion and/or revised haiku.  Twenty-seven school members contributed a total of over eighty haiku.  Overall, the haiku present sharp focus and  concision.  The poets draw on their deep awareness of nature to bring immediacy and vivid imagery to their work.  This sampling of poems from the exercise demonstrates the authors’ respect for nature, their understanding of the essential qualities of haiku, and particularly the value of clear focus:

railroad crossing
the red-winged blackbird raises
its pinions

bird songs–
on the new rosebud
just a hint of pinklynne (steel)


nasturtium leaf–
the small crunch of a snail

Anna Tambour
gardening break–
the neighbor’s cat
jumps in my lap

Billie Wilson
scent of geraniums–
gardeners speaking
through a fenceTerrie Relf
place of honor
velvety green geranium
about to bloom

Carmen Sterba
a paper cup floats
along the canal
sweet alyssumCarol Raisfeld
spring day –
quiet paddling
of water boatmen

robert leechford
first drops of rain
a black ant
on my shoelace

Cindy Tebo
damp hair
the faint scent
of marigolds

Cindy Tebo
English tea
window box blooms
with morning sun

oak leaves
uncurling in this heat wave
my new hairdo

kirsty karkow
setting sunlight
spread across the sidewalk green maple chaff

don socha
spring moon
the scent of you
so near

Marjorie Buettner
warm breeze–
a fragrance
I can’t quite name

Maleti (Mary Lee McClure)
Train pulling away –
On the waiting room window
A trapped butterfly

spring rain
balloons at the grave site

Marjorie Buettner
parting clouds
a flash of pigeons
from the steeple

Maria (Steyn)
parting clouds
a flash of pigeons
from the steeple

Maria (Steyn)
crisp shadows
the lizard returns
to the patio wall

MaryJane Turner
edge of the moon —
the heron fixes
a yellow eye

Steve (Amor)
spring storm
the speed of swallows
with the wind

DeVar Dahl
Wyeth’s light…
watching the storm
cross the lake

Laurene Post
a bright breeze
dandelions just higher
than the grass

paul t conneally
cool green morning
milkweed tufts float
across the lawn

Darrell Byrd
rush hour
all the seeds blown
from the dandelions

Alison Williams
above the dog’s bowl

Sue (Mill)
a turtledove’s song . . .
the pauses
between falling leaves

Maria (Steyn)
spring sunrise
pine dust greens the eaves
of the old cabin

spring breeze
a spider swings
with the spider plant

Victor P. Gendrano
This entry was posted in Article Series, Haiku, Lessons, Vol 2-1 March 2002 and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Haiku Lessons part 4 – Nature Exercise

  1. Pingback: How to Learn Haiku « Word Skies

  2. Pingback: Haiku Demystified – How to Write Haiku – Cafe Haiku

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