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Nature's Inspiration
by Lori B.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

As a child, whenever I was asked that question, I cringed. A teacher, an artist, a nurse? How was I supposed to know? I didn't have the skills for any of those things, and I didn't have any confidence in myself, either. 

The answer didn't become any clearer to me as a teenager. I wanted a career, I wanted to make a positive difference in the world, but how? I was too shy to be a teacher; controlling a classroom of rowdy kids seemed impossible. I had no artistic talent to speak of; my only experience with art was painting by numbers. And I wasn't cut out for a medical profession; I hated the sight of blood. Nothing appealed to me, except two things: nature, and playing the guitar.

I didn't have a favorite season; I loved them all. I especially loved how one season flowed into the next, as if they were spokes on an invisible wheel.

Tiny buds would suddenly appear at the ends of bare branches. The buds would swell and turn green on the first warm day of spring. Then, purple and white crocuses would break through the crusty snow with their pointy little heads. While leaves were gently unfurling on the trees, a rainbow of tulips would burst forth in my neighbor's yard, waving to the lilies of the valley in ours. One by one, maple leaves would begin their quiet cycle, changing from green to yellow, orange, and red. Soon, they'd silently drop to the ground, or else be blown there by a strong wind. I'd collect the prettiest ones, iron them with wax paper, and save them in a scrapbook. At the first sign of snow, I'd rush outside and catch snowflakes on my tongue. And before long, it would be time for those tiny buds to appear again.

Music was another love of mine. I listened to the radio constantly, and I loved to sing along. At age ten, I had a record player and a few scratchy 45s that I played over and over. I wanted to learn to play the piano, too, but we couldn't afford one. Instead, I saved my babysitting money and bought a cheap guitar and a guitar instruction book when I was thirteen. I dreamed about becoming a folk singer. I emulated Peter, Paul, and Mary, and also Joan, Bob, and Joni. I tried playing along to their albums, hoping some of it would rub off on me. 

By the time I'd graduated from high school, some of it had rubbed off, but not enough. I could strum a few chords, but my voice was terrible. I gave up my dream of becoming a folk singer, and signed up for college instead.

I wasn't that interested in any of my classes and I still had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. I'd hoped to find my calling during college, but, as far as I could tell, my only calling was watching leaves change colors, and plunking the strings on my guitar, which I'd brought along with me. I switched majors four times, and that was just in the first year. After four years, I graduated with a degree in psychology, but I'd learned very little about my own psyche during that time. 

Eventually, I landed a mediocre job in an office. It wasn't fulfilling work, but it paid the bills, so I stayed there for several years. I needed a hobby to brighten my nights, so I took a songwriting class, but I was an utter failure at that. All I created were sappy melodies and trite lyrics. I felt so uninspired. How was it that Paul McCartney could write “Yesterday” in his sleep, and I couldn't even compose a decent jingle?

I dated, got married, had kids. We were an active family. We camped, we hiked, we biked. I was too tired the rest of the time to play my guitar. It sat in the corner gathering dust, as did my dreams of ever becoming a folk singer. 

When my kids left the nest, my husband and I moved to southern Arizona, and I took up bird watching. When spring arrived, I went for a walk in the woods. And that is when I found my true calling.

I was on a trail near the San Pedro River. The muddy path I was on was bordered on both sides by tall cottonwood trees. Here and there, small patches of green poked out of the earth. Robins and butterflies were flitting about. The air was fresh and invigorating.

I was hoping to see a little red bird that I knew was a frequent visitor to the area, a vermilion flycatcher. I’d heard about it but had never seen one before. And then he appeared on a branch above me: a small, bright bird the color of a ruby. 

I watched the bird hopping from branch to branch, from tree to tree, until he flew away, and then I continued my walk. I was looking down at the ground, thinking about that bird, when I was struck with a very strange feeling that I can only call "inspiration." I think it was the combination of the fresh air, the sunshine, the earthy trail, and the bird calls all around me. Or maybe it was the rhythmic vibration of my footsteps, lulling me into a meditative trance. But somehow, I felt as if I had become one with the earth, and also one with the trees, the light, the birds, the air. We were all in it together. 

I wanted to send that magical feeling out to the whole world. I thought maybe a song would be the way to do it. The beauty of that day, and the connection I had felt with the earth and all of nature, was bigger than my fear of failure. So, as I walked along the wooded path, I started to dream about writing a song.

When I got home, still inspired, I took out my old guitar, a pad, and a pencil, and I strummed a few chords. Not bad, I thought. I closed my eyes and thought about the feeling I'd had on the trail. It had been as if Mother Nature herself had been holding me in her spell. Before I knew it, I was picturing her as a character in my song. I named her Eartha Tierra. Then I thought about the little red bird I'd seen in the trees. He became Eartha's partner. I named him Marty Vermilion.

Every so often, I’d think of a line or a word and I’d jot it down on my pad. What had begun as a song about a walk in the woods had grown into one with a much more global nature. Eartha Tierra was now planet Earth; Marty Vermilion was Mars. The song had taken on a life of its own.

I sat back and read the words I'd written on my pad:

     Eartha Tierra was a beauty, Marty Vermilion was her friend

     It had been that way since forever, it looked like it never would end                     

     Eartha Tierra turned to Marty, “My friends call me ‘Mama’” she said

     Marty rearranged his auburn hair and he answered, “You can call me ‘Red’.”


The words had a certain rhythm to them, one like footsteps on a forest path. I continued writing. The words began to hint at a world in trouble:

     Eartha and Marty were neighbors, grew up on the same side of the tracks

     In daytime they traveled in circles, at night they watched each other’s backs

     The days soon turned into seasons, the seasons turned into years

     Some years were better than others, but some just brought Eartha to tears.


A melody started to come to me as I spoke the words, and I wrote down the notes that I heard in my head. Then I tried writing a chorus. I now found myself writing about climate change: 

     My temperature is rising, she cried, I need a solution now

     There's got to be an answer, oh please, can't you help me somehow?

      I need to find a new direction, an eclipse from this dangerous fire

     Come on, people, do the right thing, and cool my fevered brow.


It was rough, but it was a start. I added another verse, worked out the chords, and finally it was finished. I practiced it for a few weeks and then played it for a friend of mine, a musician who owned a recording studio. I'd always been shy about playing anything for him, but I had a feeling he'd like this song, and he did. He called in a band to record it, it was mixed and mastered, uploaded to the internet, and delivered to our local radio station within weeks. A few days later, I heard it on the radio while I was driving home from the store.

Someone else had heard the song that day, too: a woman whose brother happened to work for the Sierra Club. The woman sent the song to her brother, who posted it on the Sierra Club's website. 

Later that year, the Sierra Club organized a protest in Washington, D.C. to demand action on climate change. A chorus of school children were part of the program. They stood on a stage in Lafayette Square, a few blocks from the White House, and sang one song: it was the song I'd written. CNN was there, and they'd recorded the whole thing. They played the clip repeatedly for the next 48 hours. 

That night, Senator Brown had stayed up late streaming the day's news coverage, and the news wasn't good. Wildfires had flared up in the west, a minor earthquake had struck in southern California, and a hurricane was projected to make landfall in Louisiana by morning.

The Senator reached for the remote in frustration. She'd heard enough. She'd wanted to impact environmental policy when she ran for Congress, but she felt stymied. Nothing ever changed, except the climate.

She was just about to press the power button when the story switched to the protest in Lafayette Square. Children were up on a stage, singing something. For some reason, she kept watching.

And then something familiar caught her eye. She pressed "rewind" and played the song again. Sure enough, that was her granddaughter, Jamie, in the front row, singing her heart out. The camera had zoomed in on Jamie's earnest face for a second or two just before the song ended. 

The Senator switched off her TV and stared at the blank screen for several minutes, deep in thought. Then she stood up and made a phone call.

"I'm throwing my hat in the ring," she told her best friend, soon to become her campaign manager. "I'm running for President. I'm doing it for Jamie."

Senator Brown made climate change her number one campaign issue. She won the election by a landslide. 

I spoke to President-elect Brown just last week, and she told me about seeing Jamie on TV. She said if I hadn't written that song, she never would have decided to run for President.

She invited me to her Inauguration Ball, but I won't be able to make it. I'm currently in India with my band, working on a new song. It's about world peace. The lyrics came to me one night while I was gazing up at the stars over the Taj Mahal.

Yes, I've finally figured out what I want to be when I grow up: a songwriter.



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