Learning to write about nature begins with a love of nature. Add a few skills like observation, keeping a journal, taking photos, and researching, and the love of nature can be turned into a publishable piece of writing.
By Joan Whetzel
Everybody loves being in nature. And most people like watching movies and TV shows about nature or reading about nature. For those who love nature, why not join two favorite pastimes together – nature and writing?
What Is Nature Writing?
Nature writing is a form of nonfiction that covers anything in the natural world. It relies on scientific knowledge about the natural world and frequently includes the author’s personal observations and thoughts. Nature writing covers anything from writings emphasizing natural history facts (field guides) to philosophical treatises, to solitary escapes in to natural environments (Thoreau), travel writing, and adventure writing.
Nature writing is said to be relational, meaning it discusses the interconnections, or interrelationships, between all aspects of the world as a whole. How mankind affects nature and how nature affects mankind, for example. Nature writing is always presented in a positive tone. It acknowledges the challenges and the tragedies that occur in nature, but balances that with words of hope – the first bits of green returning after a volcanic eruption, the first tentative rains that show signs that a drought is coming to an end, the return of healthy wildlife to marshlands seriously affected by a catastrophic oil derrick failure. Nature writing turns the tragedy around, showing the hope and that faith that nature, and the world itself, can recover from anything.
Doing the Research
Writing about nature involves research. The research steps include the following:
· Reading up on the topic of interest, to find out what knowledge is already available. This could be done at the library, on the internet, or by subscribing to nature magazines.
· Interviewing experts. The experts in your topic area can offer their own personal insights, which may not be published yet. They may even let your know about natural and scientific research being done that isn’t generally known yet.
· Making your own observations. This will require some time out in nature either alone, with others who share an interest in your topic, or as part of a nature research group. If you don’t have a scientific background, become part of a natural cause as a volunteer.
· Keeping records of your observations. Carry a notebook with you on your outings. Record the date and time as well as any objective observations (whatever you witness) about landscape, place, animals and plant life, weather, and what’s going on around you. Make pencil sketches of what you see and take photos as well.
· Make notes in a journal about how each outing made you feel – emotionally, spiritually, philosophically – as well as sensory information (tastes, smells, sights, sounds, and tactile feelings). Also make notes on “cause and effect” type scenarios: how manmade pollutants and actions seem to be negatively affecting the natural environment, how clean up efforts are having a positive effect in nature, how nature affects the visitors to State and National parks, how natural environments seem to encourage the average person to clean up after themselves while out in nature so they don’t spoil the view for others.
The best nature writing is done in the “grand style” which is designed to appeal to the senses and to produce a sense of ecstasy in the readers, rather than trying to persuade them toward this point of view or that cause. It is calculated to inspire a sense of wonder and awe and to create a deep emotional impression on the reader. It is aimed at inviting the readers’ higher nature (the spiritual part of a person’s character) into making an intimate connection with nature and to make a connection between nature and the sublime, the transcendence, the magnificence of nature – the grandeur of nature and how it makes us feel a part of that grandeur when we are in nature. The rhythm and the pace of nature is so different than what we are used to, that they must find their way into the nature writing in a grand way.
Sound and Texture
Adding sound and texture to the writing makes nature writing come to life. It is impossible to be in nature without noticing the sound or the textures, because they are so different than those present in our everyday lives, especially for those of us who live in cities. The sounds and textures add to the music or poetry of nature, and so they must become a part of nature writing.
Writing about nature means adding the visual details that accompanied your field research. It’s not enough to add the pencil sketches or photographs. Sketches and photos only give part of the picture. Nature writers must complete picture by adding the details that didn’t make it into their sketches and photos and provide a sense of perspective for the readers (i.e. where the items in their sketches and photos were located in relation to everything else).
Other Things to Include in Nature Writing
Nature writers should make use of similes and analogies to compare things found in nature to things in our everyday life, showing the characteristics of nature in ways that readers may be familiar with. This helps the readers make a connection with nature and with the writing. Metaphors in nature writing help readers gain a perspective on what the writer has seen. For instance, if the nature writer witness the massive oil spill, he could describe it as “covering the area of 9 football fields” or “as widespread as Houston’s urban sprawl.”
The Addition of Sidebars
Sidebars in magazine, newspaper, and online articles allow for the inclusion of information related to the main topic, but doesn’t really fit into the main article. Items usually seen in sidebars include:
· a list of facts related to the topic or to the area/region in nature
· tables of figures
· “How To” short articles of 2-3 paragraphs or a bulleted list similar to science experiment instructions
· lists of websites to visit or books and magazines articles containing related material
· list of places and websites to visit where interested readers can learn more
· Location, hours, admission price, and contact information so readers can make plans to visit the natural environment in the nature writer’s article
· expert advice - the highlights – on how to make the best use of this natural environment, how to minimize your impact on nature, how to get the most out of the experience, how to help clean environmental disasters, etc.
Wikipedia. Nature Writing.
Harton, Ron. Nature Writing. What Is Nature Writing?
Johnstone, Ian M. International Community of Ecopsychology. Nature Writing.
Harton, Ron. Nature Writing. Henry Thoreau as a Model for Nature Writing.
Johnson-Sheehan, Richard and Kristi Stewart. The Writing Instructor. Composing Nature.
Indiana University Libraries. American Nature Writing.