Black (and Outdoors) At A Time Like This


Cleveland, 3400

Grass/lawn/tree/rosebushes/honeysuckle fence

tree lawn, front lawn, home, backyard – in that order

One summer garden = zucchini abundance, asparagus dearth, too many tomatoes

I grew up seeing green from my window not realizing

how and when this would become a lifetime requirement.

Me or my look-alike ca. 1967




trails, hills, woods, stony beaches

mountains, meadows, lakes, streams

Give me all of these

they belong to who I am.


Vermont, Summer 1983



feels like that’s always been me

but I’m not a hiker/ mountain biker/backpacker

I’m an attendee, if you will.

One who shows up in nature

and attends.

I listen and look and pause

and wonder

how I got here

or here

or here.

Once upon a time at my godparents’ with my oldest, ca. 1997


There are not enough of the right words

to explain

why it matters and what it means to be Black and claim the outdoors, the great outdoors as one’s own, as part of one’s being, as central to one’s every breath and thought. Hanif Abdurraqib has 13 poems with the same title “How Can Black People Write Poems About Flowers At A Time Like This” and each one is so exquisitely distinct. Black people and flowers match up for funerals in the popular imagination maybe, or for Easter hats and brilliant attire. At A Time Like This which has become every time all the time, when, oh when, would Black folks ever have time for flowers? At A Time Like This when might we take pause to contemplate a flower’s beauty and complexity, meditate on flowers’ metaphorical bounty. Apparently that is not for us. There are not enough of the right words to explain. You wonder at this. Or you don’t. Maybe you’ve never seen Black folks striding out into the woods, along the river bank, up the mountain trail; sitting cross-legged around the campfire, as natural. Because our bodies in open, green and spectacularly floral spaces can so readily be misconstrued unless they are laboring on what you presume must be

someone else’s land.

What it meant, what it means: outdoors(y)

What Outdoorsy Means & For Whom

Not everyone who spends time outdoors can be


Outdoorsy qualifies and codifies belonging:

read privilege

read price tag

read middle class and up

read whiteness

read suburbia.

No one calls the homeless outdoorsy

or migrant farm workers outdoorsy.

Outdoorsy is a fashion line,

Outdoorsy completes a dating profile;

Hot or not, it means what it means.

I love the outdoors and I am not outdoorsy.


Places I Have Seen With My Own Eyes That Have Also Seen Me (A Visual Poem)

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Late Invitation

A life that holds promise


like a delicate bouquet

requests the pleasure of your company

in a vision of nature

happening wherever you are/ I am/we be.

Claim it children,

chase it children,

be gentle children,

Let it be.

Let us be




This blog post is part of the #31DaysIBPOC Blog Challenge, a month-long movement to feature the voices of indigenous and teachers of color as writers and scholars. Parisa Mehran and Alison Collins have entries today as well. Please CLICK HERE to read yesterday’s blog post by Janelle W. Henderson (and be sure to check out the link at the end of each post to catch up on the rest of the blog circle).

All images belong to the author, Sherri Spelic, @edifiedlistener






15 thoughts on “Black (and Outdoors) At A Time Like This

  1. Sherri. I see you and soak in each of these words, listening for the whole of it. I know I will never truly know. And it matters to me that you pour your soul into wholeness, for you, for those you love (so many) and for our world. My life and wholeness is connected to yours and to a vision of humanity that you not only express but live.

    I see you. I am touched. And I keep on in the ways I know (or don’t yet know but hope to learn) to reach minds and hearts and hands toward anti-racism, and pro-thriving. This is my promise. I love you.

    1. Thank you, Dana. Your words and your commitment mean a lot. When I think back to those years in Cleveland – the contrast between home and campus – and remember that you were there, it just warms my heart to have a witness from way back. I am so glad and relieved to be able to share in your antiracist journey. Be well and stay safe, my friend. Hugs across several time zones.

  2. Sherri, thank you for these thoughts. Your beautiful words are a Balm in Gilead. Thank you for introducing me to Hanif Abdurraqib. His poem reminded me of some more flower imagery I read recently in The Tradition by Jericho Brown.

    Your visual poem is so beautiful and makes me angry at myself and sad that I didn’t even realize the white privilege that allows me to be “outdoorsy” before I read it. Thank you for your words.

  3. What a beautiful piece of writing! Thank you Sheri. You have inspired me to both spend more time outside today (lucky it is so beautiful here in Colorado this week!), and to do more work… to show up… and to act. I hope all is well with you and your loved ones in Vienna and at AISV!

    1. Hi Mark, How lovely to hear from you! Glad I took the opportunity to think about all the gifts I have received from the outdoors. I hope our paths cross again before too long. Be well!

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