15 June 2024

Sandburg's wicker chair on a rock outcrop behind their North Carolina home.


Sandburg's wicker chair on a rock outcrop behind their North Carolina home.

Carl Sandburg's Chair, Connemara Estate, North Carolina | Flickr


A Walk in the Woods with Nature's Poet 


By John W. Quinley


Freedom is found, if anywhere, in the great outdoor world of wild breezes and sunshine and sky. . .To get out into the daylight and fill your lungs with pure air, to stop and watch a spear of grass swaying in the wind, to give a smile daily at the wonder and mystery of shifting light and changing shadow, is to get close to the source of power.


Dear Readers,


It would be a mischaracterization to associate Carl and Paula Sandburg only with big city life in Chicago. They believed ardently that fresh air and long, rugged hikes in the countryside would provide inspiration and vitality all their lives. In a letter written by Carl to Paula early in their courtship, he pictures a hike along Lake Michigan in poetic terms:

Back from a long hike again—sand and shore, night and stars and this restless inland sea— Plunging white horses in a forever recoiling Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg—On the left a ridge of jaggedly outlined pines, their zigzag jutting up into a steel-grey sky—under me and ahead a long brown swath of sand—to the right the ever repelled but incessantly charging white horses and beyond an expanse of dark—but overall, sweeping platoons of unguessable stars! Stars everywhere! Blinking, shy-hiding gleams—blazing, refulgent beacons—an infinite, travelling caravanserie— going somewhere!


More than thirty years later, Paula ebulliently describes the challenge and rousing views of a mountain trail at their farm in North Carolina:

We found that our land goes over the top of Little Glass Mt and up to the very top of Big Glass Mt—at least a mile of real climbing from the house…We walked up and down the mountain for 3 hours—a perfect day— air crisp and windy!...From the top of Big Glassy you see all over Hendersonville and the country about, Smokies and Blue Ridge…And in every direction, you are on top of the World!


Sandburg voiced the love he felt for the natural world in his poetry. Of the over one thousand poems in The Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg, at least ten percent speak to an aspect of nature: times of day, the seasons, and geographical features. In “Daybreak,” he explains that “Night is getting ready to go / And Day whispers, ‘Soon now, soon.’” In “Stars,” he notes that they “are too many to count,” and they “tell nothing—and everything.” And that stars “are so far away they never speak / when spoken to. Stars are priceless yet paid for.” In “Falltime,” he describes the “cold of a ripe oat straw, gold of a southeast moon / Canada thistle blue and flimmering, larkspur blue.” In “Prairie,” he declares that he “was born on the prairie and the milk of its wheat, the red of its clover, the eyes of its women, gave me a song and a slogan.” And in the “Young Sea,” he says:


Let only the young come,

     Says the sea.

Let them kiss my face.

     And hear me.

I am the last word

      And I tell

Where storms and stars come from.


Sandburg valued the times he sat alone in his wicker chair behind the farmhouse in North Carolina to reflect on his life. He understood that:

It is necessary now and then for a man to go away by himself and experience loneliness, to sit on a rock in the forest and ask of himself, “Who am I, and where have I been, and where am I going?”


The answers he sought were grounded in the natural world. In his poem, “Who Am I,” he wrote “My head knocks against the stars. / My feet are on the hilltops. / My finger-tips are in the valleys and shores of universal life. / Down in the sounding foam of primal things I reach my hands and play / with pebbles of destiny.”

Thanks for reading,


John Quinley is the author of Discovering Carl Sandburg: The Eclectic Life of an American Icon and is a former docent at the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site in Flat Rock, North Carolina. You may contact John at jwquinley@gmail.com.


 No.  Date Title
8 15 June 2024 A Walk in the Woods with Nature's Poet
7 19 May 2024 Dream Girl Lilian Steichen
6 15 April 2024 Humble Beginnings 
5 15 Mar 2024 The Old Troubadour
4 22 Feb 2024 Remembering Karlen Paula
3 12 Feb 2024 Why Did Sandburg study Lincoln?
2 22 Jan 2024 Before the Chicago Daily News
1 8 Jan 2024 Poet of the People

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