Poetry in Zion – a slower pace


The Watchman - a monolith prominent on the skyline and in the poetry written at our poetry workshop.
The Watchman – a monolith prominent on the skyline and in the poetry written at our poetry workshop.

What happens when you take 30 middle school students to Zion National Park?

Complete chaos, right?

Actually, with the group I took last Friday, not at all. They were well-behaved and respectful – both to me, the other chaperone and to the park environment. They allayed my fears because the experience was something new to me. Last year, I only had to worry about three students!

The climax was when they all sat quietly, composing their own nature poems, for AN ENTIRE HOUR! Yes, that’s right – for an entire hour. It astounded even me – a middle school teacher myself. Usually a teacher has to be a real Nazi to get them to be silent for that long, but not this day. They were obviously committed to their craft to be able to concentrate for so long.

The trip began inauspiciously with an immediate break from the original itinerary. At first, I was supposed to do a presentation on metaphors, similes, and personification at the South Campground Amphitheatre, but with it being so cold when we arrived, we were immediately ready to get in the sun. Instead of sitting in an amphitheatre without one single ray of sunshine, we decided to go on our nature walk farther up the canyon to its other side where the sun’s rays greeted us in abundance!

A cold group of young poets upon arrival in Zion.
A cold group of young poets upon arrival in Zion.

After a photo opp in front of the Towers of the Virgin, we decided to do the presentation and its accompanying activities on the Zion Human History Center Lawn, which wasn’t open meaning there weren’t many tourists milling around to distract us.

In my presentation I pointed out that Zion National Park is full of metaphors in the names of its formations, places like, The Watchman, which “guards” the South Entrance to the park, as well as other religious references, including the Towers of the Virgin we had just seen – West Temple, The Sundial, and the Altar of Sacrifice. The Three Patriarchs, Angels Landing and The Great White Throne were a few others I mentioned. Little did I know that these formation names would be integrated into many of the students’ poems and these formations took on a life of their own through the students’ use of personification.

Three writing activities primed these young poets to produce a stand-alone work of their own at the end of the day. First it was the “I Am an Acorn” activity – picking an item in nature that they saw that shared qualities with them. There were students who compared themselves to trees, the river, rocks, squirrels, etc. Personally I compared myself to one of the rock monoliths because with my height, I stand out.

Next they did a simile activity in which they compared two seemingly unlike things in nature and explained what they had in common. The last was the “Nice” Descriptive Writing Activity in which they had to come up with five sentences describing, in different words, how their time in nature that day was “nice.” I’ll share two of my statements, that I feel describe the day perfectly:

  1. A trip outside the classroom provides an eye-opening venue for students to learn about their surroundings and to be creative – let their imaginations go in any direction they’d like.
  2. Any national park excursion can become an anchor of positivity – something about which to reminisce and appreciate time spent with loved ones or friends.

    Our group enjoying the view of the Towers of the Virgin and enjoying the sun's rays.
    Our group enjoying the view of the Towers of the Virgin and enjoying the sun’s rays.

I was impressed with the complexity of the writing samples the students penned from these three activities. Many had already decided to wax poetic with their responses to the writing prompts. At that point, I was excited to see what they would produce, and the students did not disappoint.

After the aforementioned hour-long free-write session, many students had the courage to share their recently-composed poems. As mentioned previously – many of the poems gave life to the formations we saw that day and others showed reverence to Zion’s natural beauty. The other chaperone, who just so happens to be our school’s principal, was impressive in his comparison of The Watchman to a great protector, and even included references to the students to see if they could pick up on them.

My own poem took a different turn based on what I’ve researched over the last 14 years – the history and impact of Zion’s transportation system AND a bike ride I took up the canyon last summer. I read my poem (included at the end of this entry) last, but it was by no means the best. Yes, I am the teacher – but the amount of talent displayed during that poetry share was extremely encouraging.

Overall, a day in Zion at a slow pace away from the crowds cultivates creativity and is a recharge for the soul – even with middle schoolers in tow!


Zion at a slow pace

By Reuben Wadsworth

There was a time

When Zion was sublime

Not much of a crowd

It wasn’t too loud

Today’s not the same

The only thing to blame

Is the park’s big draw

Now turned into a flaw

So many people, too much fuss

Difficult to find some solace

An experience somewhat grand

But more akin to Disneyland

Waiting in long lines

Earning parking fines

Listening to the chatter

Thinking, “What’s the matter?”

A wilderness foray

Comes with some dismay

Wilderness it is not

Urban struggles are the lot

To avoid the commotion

One gets the notion

The need to break away

To have a delightful day

Changing one’s transportation

From the favorite of the nation

To something much more slow

“Oh, the places you’ll go”

On a bike or on feet

The experiences you will greet

Provide much more pleasure

They will be a treasure

Up the canyon on a bike

Is a journey you will like

Solitude can be found

With hardly anyone around

The throngs will pass you by

On the shuttle as you try

And succeed as you pedal

Without too much mettle

And at your leisurely pace

You’ll appreciate the place

More than seeing it fast

Through windows, quickly passed

Your memories will be like candy

Reminiscences, sweet and dandy

Instead of frustration and anger

That could put people in danger

Your next time in the park

Let your contrast be more stark

Take Edward Abbey’s advice

Ride a bike, it’s twice as nice

Pre-writing activities on the Zion Human History Museum lawn.
Pre-writing activities on the Zion Human History Museum lawn.
Group of young poets sitting in the South Campground Amphitheatre seats
Group of young poets sitting in the South Campground Amphitheatre seats


2 thoughts on “Poetry in Zion – a slower pace

  1. Thank you for sharing this – My son said he had a great time and learn a few things – I know he didn’t share his poem with the group, because I had asked! It even took a few days to get him to let me read it – It was wonderful –
    Thanks For inviting him!

    T. McKinney

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