Notepad Walking

First published on the Sammamish Walks website on 11 May 2015 [link no longer works]. See also my haibun, “Rebirth, and my essay, “Haiku and the Art of Forest Bathing.”

One way to help deepen your attention while on a walk in the woods—or a walk anywhere—is to try writing haiku in a notepad. We’ve all been taught haiku in school as a syllable-counting exercise, but you don’t need to limit yourself to that (they don’t count syllables in Japan the way we do, actually, so a free-form approach is fine in English). Traditional haiku in Japan have what’s called a kigo or season word—some sort of reference to the season such as the light-green growth at the tips of pine boughs in the spring, or the sparkly first frost of autumn. As you walk along the woods in Beaver Lake Park or Evans Creek Preserve, or elsewhere in and around Sammamish, you and your family can be on the lookout for signs of the season. If you take a pocket-sized notebook with you, you can jot down those seasonal indicators you notice, and perhaps some of them will turn into haiku. You could also use your smartphone to record notes or to take pictures of what you see, or you could use your notebook to draw sketches. Give yourself the challenge of noticing something special that appeals to each of your five senses, and then record these observances in your notebook.

        Don’t pressure yourself to write haiku if you’re content simply with gathering these “word seeds”—you can use them to write haiku later. Haiku is a poetry of feeling, but the trick is to suggest your feeling without naming it. In fact, don’t write about your feelings at all. Instead, write about what caused your feelings, like seeing a water-strider just above a weir, or hearing the rat-a-tat-tat of a distant woodpecker. If these experiences of sight and sound (or other senses) give you a feeling of wonder or awe or simple appreciation, just present the image or experience as it is and your reader will be able to have the same feelings of wonder or awe or appreciation.

        So, next time you’re on a walk in the woods, take a notebook with you. Write down the names of the flowers or bushes you see, the birds you hear. Or, if you don’t know their names, write brief descriptions of what you observe. Also note weather conditions, the temperature, and the time of year and how you see it changing. Turn these notes into haiku to share with family and friends, or here on this website [Sammamish Walks]. And don’t forget to sit still or walk slowly if you need to, without writing haiku at all, or even writing down any notes. At those times of quiet noticing, you can let yourself be one with the woods, enjoying what the Japanese have called “forest bathing.” Let yourself be washed by the woods. And if any haiku come to you then or later, then you’ll be doubly blessed.

        To learn more about writing haiku in English, please visit Further Reading on my website.