I’ve been told that most children in the United States learn to write haiku in third grade. At the very least they learn that haiku is a traditional poetic art form using  seventeen syllables divided into lines of 5 – 7 – 5. The idea is to capture a moment in time. The famous Japanese poet/priest, Issa (1763-1828), focused on creating haiku using his love for nature in the process.

I did not grow up in the American school system, so it wasn’t until I took an undergraduate Zen Buddhism course that I learned to appreciate and have fun with creating this particular kind of poetry.

In the following haiku, I try to capture the moment I experienced the natural scene in front of me. Taking a photograph and then writing an accompanying haiku can be a meditative exercise. I keep striving to make that exercise a daily happening.

Ominous dark clouds
Follow me around the lake
Pushed by a brisk wind
Water carves a path
Through green trees, earth, air, sunlight
O’er rocks, twigs, leaves, roots

Spiked leaves with sharp points
Resisting interference
With cacti’s purpose
In the sultry heat
Bee hovers on red flower
Bathing in pollen
Rocks, grass, waterfall
I sit and feel the cool spray
Blow the heat away
Bulging from the ground
Is it a mountain or hill?
Who is it that asks?
Following a path
Until the path is no more
Then the hike begins

These photos and haiku are snapshots from my adventures in Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina this summer. I am discovering that pausing frequently to take in and experience my surroundings using all my senses has a salutary, expansive effect—something that allows me to focus on what’s in front of me right here, right now.  I can wrap my head around the particular. The general is diffuse.

I alone cannot “fix” the blatant injustices so prevalent in our country—Black men killed by police at traffic stops, women denied access to life-giving abortions, many of us working two or three jobs in order to survive.  What I can (and plan) to do is center myself and work like the dickens in a local, particular space with the goal of alleviating distress of those who are held hostage by unjust laws..

 My ever-present traveling companion/sister, Betty (on right), and me.

BIO Esther Nelson is a registered nurse who worked for several years in Obstetrics and Psychiatry, but not simultaneously. She returned to school (Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia) when her children were in college and liked it well enough to stay on as an adjunct professor. For twenty-two years, she taught courses on Human Spirituality, Global Ethics, Christian-Muslim Relations, Women in the Abrahamic Faiths, and Women in Islam. She is the co-author (with Nasr Abu Zaid) of Voice of An Exile: Reflections on Islam and the co-author (with Kristen Swenson) of What is Religious Studies? : A Journey of Inquiry. She recently retired from teaching.

Author: Esther Nelson

Esther Nelson teaches courses in Religious Studies (Human Spirituality, Global Ethics, Religions of the World, and Women in Islam) at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia. She has published two books. VOICE OF AN EXILE REFLECTIONS ON ISLAM was written in close collaboration with Nasr Abu Zaid, an Egyptian, Islamic Studies scholar who fled Egypt (1995) when he was labeled an apostate by the Cairo court of appeals. She co-authored WHAT IS RELIGIOUS STUDIES? A JOURNEY OF INQUIRY with Kristin Swenson, a former colleague. When not teaching, Esther travels to various places throughout the world.

6 thoughts on “SNAPSHOTS FROM SUMMER by Esther Nelson”

  1. Your photos, haiku, and commentary are so beautiful! I think it is so important in these tumultuous times that we do take time to revel in Nature and the beauty around us when we can, to revive and open ourselves for whatever else our life holds. Stopping and just being and witnessing when I’m in Nature is something I’ve been doing more of this summer after taking a birding walk where the focus wasn’t on identifying birds as much as just being silent and listening to the sound of their songs.


  2. Love ’em! Reading these took me back to the golden days at the beginning of my marriage to a poet . He taught me to write haikus. We lived in a university town in southeast Missouri, and I hardly ever went out into nature to look, so my memories are the words, but now I’m very envious of your stunning images. Yes, indeed, we do indeed need to look around, get centered, and write. Thanks for sharing. Brightest blessings to you and your sister and all the good work you do


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