Seeds from a Birch Tree

Writing Haiku and the Spiritual Journey
By Clark Strand
Hyperion, 1997

Category: Adult Non-fiction (Craft)

I found a copy of SEEDS FROM A BIRCH TREE on the used book sale shelf of the Peacedale Public Library, where my kids and I passed a rainy August afternoon during our vacation on the Rhode Island coast. For fifty cents, it was mine, and our (wet) vacation took an unexpected and sunnier turn. The things I’d brought to read sat neglected as I communed instead with this little masterpiece. And wrote haiku.

(Me? Writing haiku? I know it sounds crazy, but …)

Strand’s thoughtful look at the form and his zen approach to creating it is perfect for the tentative beginner. He doesn’t talk about composing poems so much as experiencing nature in a purposeful and meaningful way and, if the words come, recording the experience in seventeen syllables.

(Hey! Even I can do that.)

And Strand frames reading haiku as a spiritual practice, an idea that completely resonated with me.

(Slowing down? Looking deeply? Honoring the spiritual? What better time for that than a vacation?)

SEEDS was as inspirational to me as any book I have ever read. I wasn’t looking for it. I didn’t expect it. But there it was. I’ve taken to carrying a notebook when I’m outside in the woods, an idea taken from Strand. Now I walk, and watch, and count syllables off on my fingers. It’s an addicting habit, a lovely practice, and I hope it stays with me.

silent, unmoving,
pine trees cast their hopes to wind
forest seedshower

© Loree Griffin Burns, all rights reserved

For a hefty dose of nonfiction, check out this week’s Nonfiction Monday roundup, over at Wrapped in Foil.

17 Replies to “Seeds from a Birch Tree”

  1. Oh, I love this post so much. I didn’t think I could get blog-driven-happiness more than I did today then after reading about Cindy Lord capturing seals going back to freedom, and making Jo so happy. But wow. So much happiness being driven into a Monday I was bent on being cranky.

  2. Loree, I’m glad you’ve found haiku! But, I’d urge you to please give up the 5-7-5 counting. Just aim for the fewest words/syllables possible. You want “the essence of a moment keenly perceived.”

    One of my favorite haiku is this one of three words by Raymond Roseliep:


    If you’re interested, borrow The Haiku Anthology edited by Cor Van Den Heuvel, it’s the best example of the variety and richness of haiku. And if you’re interested, I can send you links to some haiku sites.

    1. Thank you, Diane. I’m smitten. And I have to admit that, for now, the constraint of seventeen syllables appeals to me. Maybe I’ll be tempted to venture outside them one day, but for now, honestly, they are a comfort.

      I appreciate the anthology recommendation; I will look for it. Any other tips and resources would be gratefully received. As I said: smitten.


  3. Hi, Loree. If you’re on Facebook, you might enjoy joining Hudson Valley Haiku-kai, where a lot of haiku poets hang out and share their work. It’s run by Priscilla Lignori, who’s a long-time haiku student of mine. Blessings, and I am so glad you discovered Seeds. –Clark

    From a trip to Cape Cod, where we spent our vacation this August:

    Each of them a mouth
    that wants to whisper something–
    the bowl of seashells

    1. Thank you, Clark, for your book, for the surprise of this comment, and for your Cape Cod haiku. What a morning.

      My best,

      ps. I will take a deep breath and look for the Hudson Valley Haiku-kai, too.

  4. And, by the way, I’d urge you to keep up with 17 syllables. This approach isn’t based on ignorance on my part but on long experience with teaching and writing haiku.

  5. Have you read Haiku: A Poet’s Guide by Lee Gurga? Quite possibly one of my favorite books on writing ever. It sparked much the same response in me… now I use writing senryu (a haiku variation) as a meditative practice, to help me draw connections between the cycles of the natural world and the cycles of my own life. I will make sure to put “Seeds” on my fall reading list! Thanks so much for the lovely post.

    1. Hi, Sarah. I have not, but you are the second person to recommend that particular book to me. I will look for it and, with any luck, read it while you are reading SEEDS.

      Thank you for stopping in, dear.


  6. Loree,

    Thank you for dropping by Nonfiction Monday yesterday. Seeds from a Birch Tree sounds fabulous, and I appreciate the other resources your readers have suggested. Inspiring!

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