“... and he made me blush when he said, “I am so glad you came into my life when you did.” I have been so much happier and have had my years enriched by his friendship - and Chattanooga has been made a more interesting and better place for me to live x I wonder how I can ever repay you? - I told him frankly I had had one of the most interesting days of my life and I felt the same about his friendship…”
Entry from Robert Spark's Walkers diary, page 349, Wednesday, October 31st, 1945
This excerpt from one of the dozens of personal diaries contained in the Robert Sparks Walker collection. Specifically, this entry details Mr. Walker’s feelings about the events of this very special day. On October 31st, 1945, the Chattanooga Audubon Society held a tree dedication ceremony for the benefactor of the sanctuary, E. Y. Chapin. This was an important day for Walker because he had been working for over two years for this very day. After he created the Chattanooga Audubon Society on July 2nd, 1944, their main goal was to purchase the Walker farm and convert it into a wildlife sanctuary. At first, it looked hopeless because they were unable to raise the $6,000 needed to purchase the property from the six heirs (a specially discounted price for this noble cause). However, Mr. Walker ’s vision was realized because of his longtime friend, E. Y. Chapin. This gentleman bought the Walker farm outright and immediately handed it over to the Chattanooga Audubon Society so that they may achieve their goal. Here, Mr. Walker talks about a personal conversation they had had during the dedication ceremony. One can easily detect the gratitude in his words as he documents the day’s events. He asks how he could ever repay his friend for such a selfless act. Robert Sparks Walker remained humble, even as he became a local celebrity for his environmental efforts in Chattanooga. This is evident in the fact that he said he blushed when Mr. Chapin told him that he was glad they were friends. Robert Sparks Walker’s legacy lives on at his father’s farm. Audubon Acres continues to fascinate visitors from all around the region through its trails and informative plaques detailing the species of almost every plant on the property. Audubon Acres remains a safe haven for area wildlife and a retreat from the industrial and digital world surrounding it.
Walker’s reverence for the natural world is best portrayed through his writing.
“I cannot help from thinking that it is all for the express purpose of coming to the rescue of the thousands of people in the city who without association of her wild creations would leave this old world with a partially developed mind and soul! I have never seen Nature fail in coming to the rescue of every living thing and doing for it that which it can not do for itself.”
Walker, Robert Sparks. "Talks With A Naturalist: Flower Of Course!." 1927. Chattanooga, Tennessee.
In this newspaper article, one of the thousands that he penned over his lifetime for the Chattanooga Times and many other prominent magazines, Robert Sparks Walker talks of his admiration of the personified Mother Nature. He equates her to a benevolent friend who is always concerned for her human counterparts and believes her to be absolutely essential to our spiritual and mental wellbeing. He lived his life as if he and nature were the best of friends, showing curiosity and kindness for all living things he encountered, humans included.Nature is our protector, our benefactor, and our friend and wants to pull us from our asphalt jungles not only for our health but also our spiritual rejuvenation. It was this belief that he carried with him all of his days on this earth and it was this belief that he instilled in every friend and family member so that his enthusiasm for preserving the pastoral aspect of our region has trickled down into our current generation. Citizens of the Scenic have the opportunity to reap the benefits of Nature’s friendship by simply changing their mindsets from considering nature as a nuisance to seeing it as an ecosystem that holds the most precious commodity: life.
SPRING FROG: Cherokee Naturalist
Did you learn kindness from the birds,
You with meek spirit, clean and pure?
And did their songs enrich your words
With truth’s ambition to secure
A peace and friendship with all men?
Did glimpse of tree and flower inspire
You to seek truth and beauty, when
They burst in bloom in zenith’s fire?
The gestures of the green tree’s limbs,
The words of Chickamauga’s flow,
The piping of pine needle hymns,
The tracks of mammals in the snow,
The croaking of the toads and frogs,
The howls of wolves in darkest wood,
The reptiles of the hills and bogs
Was language which you understood.
You found no beast which you could fear,
And no distress
Of heart and mind was yours to bear;
There was no toper in your clan;
No dread of robbers to despoil
Until you met a pale-faced man --
The arch-intruder of your soil!
Walker, Robert Sparks. “The Chattanooga Audubon Society
and its Elise Chapin Wild Life Sanctuary.” no date.
The sense of reverence that Robert Sparks Walker has for a man he had never met, yet had a significant influence on his life, emanates from every letter in this poem. The author appears to be the persona or speaker in the poem. In the first stanza, Robert Sparks Walker is asking how Too-an-tuh (“Spring Frog,” as translated to English from Cherokee) lived in harmony with the Nature around him, so that Walker and others after him may follow in Spring Frog’s ways and thereby honoring him through their appreciation of the natural world. Walker is also implying that Nature is a universal language. People do not need to speak the same language to appreciate something like a beautiful sunrise. Robert Sparks Walker is calling Nature the great equalizer. If current generations can get back in touch with our pastoral surroundings, then we will find peace within ourselves and balance between us and the natural world that we inhabit. Walker’s writings demonstrate that if we humans spend more time communing with Nature (say, for instance, in a wildlife sanctuary?), we will find the harmony that comes from the peaceful balance of the self.
The Farm Incarnated
An animated lump of clay
Am I, with Thought upon the throne
Charged with a voice whose richest tone
Tells of a life of yesterday
With its delights and treasured charm,
When I was living on the farm.
At first I owned a plastic mind,
And when the storms and calms appeared,
They left their deep impressions seared;
My nature well with them combined,
And smiles and frowns were thus in me
Born to exist eternally.
Though born to love, yet hate I knew;
Sunshine each day my nature craved,
But bitterness my heart my engraved;
My body kept the records true,
In both a sad and cheerful tone,
I was a living gramophone.
My thoughts and deeds must now reflect
The floods, the storms, the trees, the hills,
The birds, the flowers, the springs, the rills,
And object lowly and erect,
For I became without consent
A product of environment.
Time’s plowshare furrows deep my cheeks,
The cares are many that he brings,
I drink the water from foul springs,
Grave error-drifts float down my creeks;
The scum of ponds is my reward.
And disappointments I record.
But flowers rich my path perfume,
My work brings gladness year by year
The songs of birds are mine to hear;
Sweet voices cheer my darkest room;
The good and bright by far outshine
The gloom and sorrows deep of mine.
A plastic mind and spirit, too,
Are films unexposed, unknown;
One season only is their own.
Mine grasped the things that round them grew:
I am the incarnation here
Of father’s farm I loved so dear!
Walker, Robert Sparks. “The Farm Incarnated.”
My Father's Farm. Boston, MA: Four Seas Press, 1927.
From this poem, written in 1927 for his second poetry anthology, My Father’s Farm, the reader is able to peer into the inner thoughts of Robert Sparks Walker, who wrote this poem when he was 31 years old. In the text, the speaker believes himself to be the personified version of his father’s farm. No matter how far away from it he moves, the persona often thinks of that peaceful piece of land that holds his most precious childhood memories.
The underlying theme of this poem is duality. Walker writes, “Sunshine each day my nature craved, / But bitterness my heart engraved.” This quote identifies that the speaker’s natural inclinations toward peace and tranquility in nature are in stark contrast to the society in which he lives. He has had many disappointments, but he endeavors to find the positive in everything. Instead of closing himself off to the world and becoming bitter from his disappointment in humanity, he becomes a medium for the moments of gladness and despair that make up the human experience.
Walker’s pride in his upbringing can be seen between the lines of this poem. The persona indicates, in so many words, that he is the humanized form of his father’s farm. It is almost as if the farm is both a good friend and his own self. The persona alludes that his father’s farm has a soul and, by his leaving his childhood home and putting down roots in another place, that he carries that soul within him along with his own. This duality of spirit creates a link between the past and present. All that he is now comes directly from his past. It is a strong image, revealing the importance of heritage and its place in the biographies of each person. It is a beautiful image with which to end a poem because Walker is implying that we all carry with us the memories of our childhood homes, so that we may never forget our origins and those memories will continue to remind us of home, no matter where that may be.
Expression of Literary Beauty in Wildflowers
“When a person goes into the garden and associates with [these] flowers, he is simply reading the most delightful poetic expressions as he looks into the face of each open blossom.”
Chattanooga Times book review July 21st, 1937, “A Garland of Poetry”
This quote truly is the essence of Robert Sparks Walker’s character. His connection with nature was the motivation for his writing. Flowers, birds, trees, and many other species were the muses that inspired his pen to create beautiful and educational works of such far-reaching acclaim. This quote is also a message to his audience. The lesson is for all people to take time to truly absorb the natural beauty surrounding us. Walker is advising readers, through all of his writing, to connect with the world around them… and not with just nature, but also with people. Making connections was Robert Sparks Walker’s entire life. His magazine connected with people nationwide. His weekly newspaper column and radio show connected his words to the young and old citizens of Chattanooga, passing on to them a little of himself. He gave each of his readers a gift: the ability to see more than just buildings and trees and grass, but life itself. Walker found poetry in flowers because he stopped and took the time to fully appreciate them. We of this era are entrusted with the same task, so that we may experience the same joy he felt with every living thing he encountered.