We’ve all heard the phrase “Take only pictures, leave only footprints.” We’re familiar with its suggestion to minimize our impact on the environment, but the phrase feels out-of-date to me. Now, we live in a world where taking a selfie can be life threatening for people and other animals. It is so important to us, to share and document our experiences online, that we are essentially willing to risk our own well-being, and that of other animals, to get more likes on Instagram. While it’s dramatic to phrase it this way, and while we all don’t harm animals in the pursuit of the perfect selfie, I too realize the effect of this social media culture on my interactions with nature. I love animals and want to share the beauty of the natural world, and my excitement to be a part of it, with others on social media. Although many of us may do so without incident, the reality remains that taking pictures of wild animals can lead to ethically questionable human behavior and result in negative consequences for the animals.
So, I have decided to start the ‘Leave Only Poetry’ campaign to encourage people to write about their encounters with wildlife instead of always needing to document them with photographs. Being able to process my own encounters with wildlife through words has been deeply inspirational, providing a unique source of feelings of connectedness.
How does it work?
Instead of taking a picture of a wild animal you encounter, jot down a few words, a poem, a description. Share that on social media, instead of a photograph. Use the hashtag #leaveonlypoetry. Instead of applying a whimsical filter, throw in the perfect, juicy adjective.
If writing isn’t your thing, speak your poetry aloud and enjoy the thrill of the impermanent nature of your creative thought. Reflect on the nature of your encounters with wildlife when you choose to write about the experiences instead of capturing them in a picture. Are they more meaningful? Are you more mindful? Are you free to better appreciate sharing this planet with other beings when the stressful expectation to snap the perfect social media photo is absent?
This all being said, I realize that sometimes, it is ethical and safe to photograph wild animals; in which case, please do! My fiancé is an amateur photographer and I believe that photographs often help connect people with wildlife. I am not claiming that wildlife photography is inherently problematic. I am simply encouraging people to think before snapping a picture. I will still post pictures of animals online. I will post poems, too.
I also realize that not everyone considers themselves a poet. That’s OK! (Although I disagree. We’re all poets!) Even a few adjectives strung together to remember an autumn bear sighting or the sound of a frog’s voice is poetry. Here are some more tips. ‘Leave Only Poetry’ encourages writing in any form, and of any quality, as a way to appreciate and memorialize encounters with wildlife in meaningful and ethical ways. What is ‘good’ poetry anyway? Did it come from your heart? Is it an authentic response to your lived experience of the world? Then it sounds good to me…I can’t wait to read it!
What’s the point?
- To write, to enjoy writing, and to share writing
- To add different layers of meaning to our experiences with wildlife
- To reflect on how we react to seeing wildlife and what is important for us about those interactions
- To “balance the joy of experiencing nature with conservation goals” as my friend and fellow primate conservationist Kristen Morrow puts it
Who’s with me?!
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