By Noelle H. Lowery
Henry Davis Thoreau said, “We can never have enough of nature,” and Tommie Barfield Elementary School Principal Dr. Jory Westberry would agree. Born in New York City, she has experienced a wide and diverse swath of Mother Nature’s creations from the shores and forests of New York and New Jersey to the mountains and rivers of West Virginia to the big sky country of Utah and Wyoming to the white sand beaches and mangrove canopies of Southwest Florida.
“I love all nature and try to share that with the students in our school on a daily basis,” says Westberry. “I love the diversity in Florida, and there is diversity in the tiniest things if you look for it.”
In fact, Westberry recently channeled this love of nature into a poem — “Nature’s Sanctuary” — while spending a day in the swamp listening and observing the vitality and fervor of nature all around her. The poem describes the hidden beauties of the swamp from spiders and woodpeckers to limpkins and snails to herons, frogs and the lush flora and fauna.
In April, which is National Poetry Month, Westberry entered the poem in Big Cypress National Preserve’s Second Annual Poetry Contest. Out of 52 entries from poets all over Southwest Florida, her poem placed third. Winners were selected by the employees of Big Cypress based on relevance to the preserve and artistic merit. Preserve officials launched the contest as an example of their commitment to supporting art in national park areas and the importance of showcasing the meaning of protected areas to new audiences through art.
“I thought (“Nature’s Sanctuary”) might be an entry that would create the vision for others to enjoy,” Westberry notes.
Westberry has always loved to write: “I remember writing when I was very young, and I keep writing all the time, whether stories, book projects, articles or poetry.” While she has no one favorite poet, she enjoys a variety of poetry like those by famed children’s poet Shel Silverstein and the inspirational and heartfelt works of poet and author Maya Angelou.
To be sure, Westberry parlays both her love of nature and poetry into the everyday curriculum at TBE, believing that poetry is a creative writing tool that helps students capture and describe life and the world around them by portraying images that resonate with readers.
“Poetry is FUN!” she says. “It’s a way of creating and laughing and sometimes crying, but all the while connecting with each other. There are many forms of writing, and we need to play with all genres to instill appreciation for the creative process.”