Why Nature Writing?
By Ryder W. Miller
When thinking about Nature Writing it is hard not to be confronted with the why question; Why would one read Nature Writing? Why would one write Nature Writing? Why not just go to those places oneself?
The experience of nature can affect us in many ways. There is even a school of eco-psychology which has ruminated and written about the subject academically. For one thing, we can learn from the landscape. Others, including John Murray, have noted that the landscape, especially in writing, can also be a metaphor. David Brower has argued we need to even listen to the land.
As nature writers have shown, different landscapes can teach different lessons. For example, the river can teach us about how the past has affected us. It can also teach us about our obligations to future generations. There is usually always a forward and backwards on the river. Pollution was once allowed to go downstream. There is now plenty of consternation about being downstream from polluters. We also know better than being one ourselves. The river reminds of a journey that we can choose to take.
A mountain climb can be about a challenge. Like other goals it can be a long struggle up to the top. There are stopping points and challenges along the way. The journey can be worthwhile. From the top one can get a better perspective. The view from the mountain top is better than that among the trees below. The struggle to the top can be symbolic of the adventure to achieve something. The accomplishment can help one see things in a more informed light.
A forest could be a metaphor for understanding groups and communities. One can walk among them, even if some have fallen.
I prefer the shore to all the above as a teacher. Some find solace at the shore, but I think there is a fair bit of turmoil and one can even say a destruction of sorts. I have written that the shore can be a meeting place between irreconcilable worlds. The sea is impersonal. It does not matter who you are. Why most things can live either in the ocean or on the land, but not both. The seashore is a meeting place for independent, but not codependent communities. At the shore one can still interact with others in a place where both parties can belong at times.
One can learn from the nature writer who is good at sorting these things out. For the interested nature writer there can also be learning in the doing. One with a deeper understanding of the goal at hand, can understand that some people excel at telling adventure stories as well as philosophical ruminations. Nature can be a profound, sublime, and inspirational teacher. One can also set one apart from others which will help one dream and have vision.
Some will argue with this, but though now separate, we were once from nature. This has actually been a source of a long argument. Some write mankind is part of nature. Others argue that there is a separation. The word ‘nature’ has both a strict and general meaning in the dictionary. Nature in the broad sense has been used to include everything, even space and cities. Whitehead said the Universe; in the strict sense – in the traditional natural history sense – usually refers to that which is separate from mankind or technological culture. It can be argued that even though we are still at its mercy in some ways, that we have evolved out of nature, i.e., that we are now different than the other creatures that can be found in the wild. Nature writing can also help us connect with those other creatures which used to be closer neighbors in the past.
It also can be a travel writing of sorts.
Nature writing can be a reflection on experiences away from home. One can bring back wonders to share from places they have journeyed. It can also be about places and natural wonders.
It is easy to be fascinated with what one observes in the outdoors. There are people who just love to be able to watch birds, for example. Other critters also fascinate. It is fun to watch the ambassadors from the wild at the zoo. It can be more interesting to watch them in their natural environment though. The experience outdoors can be the kind of emotional and one would like to share what they learned.
Being alone in the wild reminds that we can make conscious decisions about what we do. The experiences can be life changing and profound. Even sublime and transformative. Everybody at one time should have this realization, even if one can only read about it. Why not just go yourself?
Well life is not always fair. The easily mobile should know that not everybody can go even if they wanted to do so personally. Some are not healthy enough to take the trip. Some have too many obligations to get away. Some do not have the money to go. Some don’t drive nor have friends who drive. Some do not have the time. Some have to wait until they are older to go to some of those famous places on their own. Some become satisfied just to read about it.
There are however, things to see nearby. Civilization has realized that we need parks and green spaces to recreate, especially in cities. Even in cities there are wild things to see, even if they are just pigeons and other urban or suburban birds. Why pigeons are some people’s first real experience with wildlife. Pigeons, House Sparrows and Starlings have been living with people for thousands of years. There have even been books about them. Some may dislike them, but why not search for the wonder in watching them also?
Thank you nature writers.
Ryder W. Miller is an environmental reporter, independent scholar, critic, and eco-critic who writes about Nature, Astronomy, the Sea, Academic books, Art, American Literature, and Genre Literature. He also writes short stories (usually genre stories) and poems. He is the editor of From Narnia to a Space Odyssey and co-writer of San Francisco: A Natural History. He is currently looking for a publisher for a book of Nature Writing/News Columns called An Ocean Beach Diary (published in The West Portal Monthly and Redwood Coast Review), and a collection of genre stories (many already published in Mythic Circle and The Lost Souls website). He has published on the web what could be a book collection of essays about science fiction and fantasy. He is also working on a anthology of Environmental stories called Green Visions. Following the dictum of C.S. Lewis he has come to believe that it is easier to criticize than understand, but not every book is worthwhile or a contribution.