Upstream by Mary Oliver

Happy Friday! It’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted anything on the blog, mainly because I’ve been out of town for almost two weeks on a wonderful family vacation. But now that we’re back and it seems that we’re (sadly) on the downhill side of Summer, I thought I’d share a new book review and some pictures from the first part of our trip.

Book Fifty Goes West.jpg

The book I’ll be discussing today is a 2016 collection of essays by Mary Oliver, a very well-known poet and essayist (I reviewed her book Dog Songs on the blog a while back). In my experience, collections of essays come in several forms. First, there’s the celebrity memoir collection of essays like Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me. These collections have a narrative thread running through them–often, the thread is the story of the author’s life.

Then you have the essay collections that are just that–a collection of essays an author has written over the course of his or her career. Books in this category would be John Muir’s Wilderness Essays, David McCullough’s Brave Companions (which I’ll be reviewing in a few days), and Upstream by Mary Oliver.

Upstream also combines a few of my favorite things–beautiful prose about the natural world, practical advice about writing, and literary essays about writers I admire. Oliver, who is an award-winning poet, uses the natural world as her starting point for most of these essays, but she also includes some biographical sketches of her literary heroes, figures like Whitman, Poe, Emerson, and Thoreau.

This was the perfect book to take on a vacation where we were seeing so much of the natural beauty of the world. It was a happy accident that I found this book on Amazon before our trip, but it turned out to be incredibly appropriate for the setting of our trip–from our first stop in Jackson Hole to our time on the Henry’s Fork river in Idaho.

Here are some of my favorite passages paired up with pictures from Grand Teton National Park. I think they’ll show you just how perfect a match this book was for our vacation.


Give [children] the fields and the woods and the possibility of the world salvaged from the lords of profit. Stand them in the stream, head them upstream, rejoice as they learn to love this green space they live in, its sticks and leaves and then the silent, beautiful blossoms. Attention is the beginning of devotion (8). 

I just love that last line: “Attention is the beginning of devotion.” It seems to apply to so much–nature, relationships, faith–the list goes on!

For whatever reason, the heart cannot separate the world’s appearance and actions from morality and valor, and the power of every idea is intensified, if not actually created, by its expression in substance. Over and over in the butterfly we see the idea of transcendence. In the forest we see not the inert but the aspiring. In water that departs forever and forever returns, we experience eternity. 

It’s not often that I give books a five-star review, but I thoroughly enjoyed Upstream. The essays are short and thought-provoking, while also maintaining the simple, poetic style Oliver has come to be known for. If you’re a writer or a nature-lover, check this book out!

I’ll leave you with some other pictures from Jackson Hole–because the trip was too fun not to share! Check back over the weekend for more book reviews paired up with images from the trip.

Keep Reading!




  1. […] favorites from the summer have been this post about John Steinbeck’s novel To a God Unknown, this post about Mary Oliver’s collection of excellent essays, and this one about why I’ve been listening to more and more audiobooks this […]


  2. […] A God Unknown by John Steinbeck: Thought-provoking fiction with unexpectedly spiritual themes. 5. Upstream by Mary Oliver: Poetic yet approachable essays about nature, life, and writing. 4. Peace Like a […]


  3. […] for a while now, mainly because of her simple but moving style. I’ve written about her books Upstream and Dog Songs on the blog before, as well as her book A Poetry Handbook which has been helpful to […]


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