January 7th, 2018

Tiny Travels: In the deep grey of Winter, poet Mary Oliver is all the travel inspiration you need

Here’s something we don’t talk about enough as inspiration for making a travel a part of our everyday life: Poetry. The right, perfectly timed poem can set me on my way like nothing else.

I was reminded of this recently when I had one of those sweet Oregon winter moments when a flock of Canada Dusky geese flew over our home in McMinnville. Despite every window and door in my house being closed, I heard the cacophonous squawking through the crisp and sunny New Year’s Day and knew I needed to re-read Mary Oliver’s 1986 poem “Wild Geese.”

It’s a very famous poem, and rightfully so. It’s a permission slip wrapped in a love note to the world, a clever call to the action of inaction, a reminder that we must always be open to the beauty of small moments.

I took my family to Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge to harness this feeling. The refuge, just 25 minutes south of McMinnville, is a popular winter vacation spot for 200 different types of birds, including those great, noisy geese whose shared flight can sometimes shake me out of my winter reverie.


As far as day trips from McMinnville go, it doesn’t get more perfect. Valley views on all sides from an easy incline, a quick walk in the woods exploring the specific life found in oak savanna habitats, wintering waterfowl – as an introduction to the valley there is perhaps no better one out there.

There are always chances to enliven the visit with a stop at for wood-fired pizza at Left Coast Cellars, or combining tasting with hiking at Van Duzer Vineyards. This time around we were content to be outside on a January day so sunny we wore sunglasses.

I don’t know about you, but birds don’t always fly on cue through my vantage point. Rarely do I walk out in the world and the wildlife gathers around me as if directed to change my life.

But they did that day. As we crested the hill on Coville Road, the best way to access the refuge from McMinnville, a flock of about 300 geese arose from a field, gathered, and dispersed into the wetlands of the refuge, the “slough,” muddy ponds with no particular definition. It looked like someone was shaking out a well-loved quilt.

Then, we walked up the hill, the same hill, towards an overlook just higher than the white oaks, to show us exactly where we were. The colors here take on such a muted palette of golds, greens and blues.

All around, people are setting intentions for the year. I am, too. I have spent a couple of days filling notebooks of intention, choosing single words to guide my 2018. With the first day calendar pages barely turned I seem to already be living in April. I am looking back, briefly, and looking so far forward some might think I am capable of time travel.

But nature affords us the privilege of thinking of none of that. This is why we travel, and why we needn’t go far from home to do it. It is for these Mary Oliver moments where all we need in the world is “to announce our place in the family of things.”

Emily Grosvenor is the editor of Oregon Home magazine. You can follow her on Twitter @emilygrosvenor.