By Annie L. Scholl for unity.org.
Patrice Vecchione’s latest book, Step Into Nature (Atria Books/Beyond Words, $16) was released on March 31. Patrice is the author of Writing and the Spiritual Life and two books of poetry. She has taught creative writing and collage workshops for more than 30 years. Here, Patrice, 57, talks from her home in Monterey, California, about her new book and her love of nature.
Unity: Tell us a bit about your book.
Patrice: Step Into Nature is about developing a relationship with one’s imagination in nature—about gaining a sense that there’s less distance between us and the earth than we might believe. It’s about recognizing the unity between humans and nature. We are nature. We make false distinctions because our lives, for many of us, are so removed from nature. My book is also about having faith in one’s imagination and trusting the creative process.
Unity: How did you know Step Into Nature was your book to write?
Patrice: Oh, that’s a great question. Well, here’s what happened. I used to be a distance bicyclist, so I got exercise through riding 20, 40, 50 miles. Then I hurt my neck. When I turned 50, I rode 100 miles, and that’s the last time I’ve ever been on my bike. My neck has arthritis. I get migraines, and the like. So I had to find another way to do two things—exercise and be outdoors. I don’t say it in the book, but the truth is, I begrudgingly began walking in the woods. I say “begrudgingly” because I liked the speed of the bike and I liked the distance you can cover.
When I started walking, I noticed I had this profound connection with nature and that my imagination was getting larger. I was getting ideas. I literally felt like the trees were talking to me. I write in the book that the mind thinks differently when the feet are in action. I started grabbing little slips of paper out of my backpack to write notes on, and I would go home and develop those notes. Then I started carrying little notebooks. It was like, Wow, something’s happening to me.
What I found through walking is how much we need to know the earth, because we’ve lost our way to the earth as humankind, especially in the developed world. In order to come to solutions about how best to take care of the earth, we need to know the earth—to have a relationship with nature. Through doing so and engaging our imagination, I believe we will be able to come up with solutions that haven’t been considered before. That’s why this book was mine to write.
Unity: In the book, you said you’d been asleep to the natural world most of your life. So did you feel like you were the least likely person to write this book?
Patrice: If someone had said to me seven years ago, when I was 50, “Patrice, you’re going to write a book, a connection between nature and imagination and spirit,” I would have said, “yeah, right.”
Unity: Elaborate on that a bit.
Patrice: I have had a very profound relationship with my imagination since I was a young child because my father, who died yesterday, was an artist. He was more an artist of possibility than an artist of actuality. He would take me to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and he would say, “Look at this. Look at the underarm hair of that Modigliani painting. Look at the light on the brick building across the street.” He taught me how to see. So that part of me was flush. The nature part of me was the surprising part.
Unity: How has nature changed you? And would you call it a transformation?
Patrice: Absolutely. A big transformation. I’m way more observant about not just the natural world, but about the world in general. I would say that’s the biggest shift. For example, where I used to think ants were disgusting, I’ll look at ants now in delight and curiosity and I’ll look at bees. I had a bee land on me recently. I didn’t say, “Ooh, what if it stings me?” I said, ‟Oh, wow. How cool. I hope it doesn’t sting me, but if it does, it’s okay. I want to get a closer look.” It’s like a meditation. The woods slowed me down. I’ve become in less of a hurry and less impatient. In January, I was out walking, and there on a branch were the dead leaves from this past year, and coming up right behind them were the new leaves. So when I get impatient or I think things aren’t working out the way I want them to, I remind myself of what I see in nature—where something is dying, like my dad, something right behind it is getting ready to be born.
Unity: How are you possibly doing this interview the day after your father’s transition?
Patrice: You know this book is my life. My artistic practice is the core of my life. My father was, as I said, an artist of possibility. He was an artist not in reality. He very rarely would put pen to paper. Very rarely would his brushes come out because he was afraid of failure. I proved to my dad, by my very life, that I might not ever succeed in the big, big world. My life may be a relatively small life, but almost every day I write or I sew or I collage. I’m not afraid to put the pen to the paper. The six months I spent writing that book were the six happiest months of my 57 years. It only makes sense I would talk to you. My dad would want me to be talking to you.
Unity: Well, thank you … The book is beautifully written. Some of the passages are stunning. How do you write something like this? Did the words just come tumbling out?
Patrice: Yes, they tumbled. It’s like being in love and nobody else is there. It was me with nature and the spirit that is life—whether anybody wants to call it God or Great Spirit or whatever—whatever that essence is, I was directed. I just said to myself, Just take what comes. You can always change it, Patrice. That’s what I did.I think a lot of the problems people have with writing is they don’t trust their own voice. They think it’s not “author-ly” enough or it’s not “this” enough, and they question it. If you question what’s coming, then I think the source from which imagination comes from starts to wither. It’s like a child. If a child comes up to you and says, “Look at this,” and you say, “Oh, show me later,” well, eventually the child stops bringing you whatever it is they want to share. I look at my imagination as a child who is bringing me gifts, and yeah, you bet I’m going to stop what I’m doing and look.
Unity: What do you hope your book does in the world?
Patrice: I hope it connects people with the vibrancy of their own imaginations—and that it connects them with nature and they see a relationship between their imaginations, nature, and a place for themselves in the natural world. That they feel welcomed by nature.
Unity: Do you believe your book can help contribute to positive changes for the earth?
Patrice: Absolutely. I wrote it with the belief and confidence that it was possible. There’s a great quote from the Talmud that says, “Every blade of grass has an angel that bends over it and whispers, ‘Grow! Grow!’’’ I think that is the imagination and earth together. There’s a benevolence in “grow, grow.” We can do this. We’ve created such amazing things as human beings. Certainly, we can shift and create a world that is sustaining and sustainable.
Learn more about Patrice at her website, www.patricevecchione.com.
UPDATE 04/25/15: Thrilled for Patrice that her book was excerpted on mariashriver.com