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Nature Writing

October 7, 2009
SAN DIEGO - NOVEMBER 1:  Fire-repressing fog m...

Nature Writing draws heavily on scientific information and facts about the natural world and reveals its subjects through the time the author spends in close observation of the ecology. Its voice is very often developed as the relationship of love, respect, and awe unfolds during this time.

Though ordinarily attributed to non-fiction and more often scientific or botanical works, a growing number of post modernist writers have begun to embrace aspects of nature writing within their works.  These include Judith Wright, Tim Winton , Cary J. Griffith Terry Tempest Williams and David Abram .

These writers incorporate the environment as a character, just as important, if not the lead, within their texts. Nature writing binds characters to the natural wealth and expanse of the wilderness with words of respect, admiration, and empathy.  It marries up the divorce between nature in the plastic world and  reminds us in every phrase, that nature has its eventual dominant place .

The new thrust of Nature Writers often see that we live in dangerous times, not through threat of terrorism, capitalism and greed; but because we have forgotten our place in the environment and the timeless flow of the universe.   Writing has come a long way from wandering tomes where the reader endures another improbable dramatic environmental threat; to the point where these very important and pressing issues become passé or ignored. The resurgence of nature writing pulls in a new kind of romanticism and longing for the wild and of a simpler existence, at the same time much of the new nature writing incorporates personal observations and philosophical reflections upon nature, ecology and natural preservation.

Since Hemingway, we as writers, have dispensed with the lengthy descriptive passages – much to the detriment of literature I believe. There is still a place for descriptive phrases which often the post modernistic author has lost. Nature writing appears to be a response to this loss.

Some nature writing reflects that people live work and play in areas seen to be unsuited to live (plastic or concrete clad cities) whilst all the time pretend that it’s a good thing. It will purport that the characters are divorced from the landscape and disconnected with the life force of nature. Its this separation from the landscape and the characters who are affronted or offended by the environment which is often the vehicle for tension within this genre. Wake in Fright by Kenneth Cook   perfectly demonstrates the juxtaposition between the clean-cut, city teacher stuck out in the outback and his reaction to the events which unfold around him.

Nature writers utilize the landscape to reflect emotions and messages. There is also the idea that landscape has its own lifeforce and will continue on; profoundly indifferent to humanity and its petty struggles.

A sense of landscape can be shown through the metaphors, Tim Winton demonstrates this magnificently in his works, most notably Breath. A particular landscape can wear a character down, eroding any strong feelings they may have had about a subject. Writers often use the pounding force of the sea or desert sands to reflect this theme.

Our anthropocentrism runs deep. Blinded by politics and theatrics of human relationships, we forget a piece can be just as interesting without the people and be as dramatic. Nature writing gives the reader a sensuous experience embodiment and emotional response to nature. I’d encourage you to sit under a tree and feel the grass beneath your feet for half an hour before you write next. Perhaps you will explore a facet of nature writing within your next piece.

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Annie Evett has been exploring different genres to write Friday Fiction in over the last few months and discovered  an incredible array available along with multitudes of sub genres. Annie believes she will be busy with her challenge for the best part of a year. Please pop over to her blog and suggest a genre for a future FF.
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  1. October 7, 2009 6:14 am

    Thanks for suggesting these new environmental writers. I’ve read John Muir and Aldo Leopold to death, and I’m ready for some fresh voices.

  2. October 7, 2009 9:19 am

    Hi Annie!

    I like your idea of environment as character. I just finished a super short video about Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” where she talks very clearly about the earth as a character. My hope is to reengage viewers in this nature writing classic. I’d love to know what you think of it.


  3. October 7, 2009 12:38 pm

    Hi Annie

    thanks for your thoughtful piece : my two favourite Nature writers are Annie Dillard and David Abram and I will now check out some of the other writers you mention.
    Perhaps you/your readers would like to read a ‘nature in the city’ essay from my site “Writing from the Twelfth House” : here is the link, and an introductory sentence or two: …..” I love herons. Their elegance: long, lean, streamlined curves over water, poised, waiting. Their focus: totally in the moment, poised, waiting….to strike sharp and swift. I love their languid flight: long wings lazily beating, slow concentrated strength and grace…..”
    Anne Whitaker, writing from Scotland

  4. October 7, 2009 9:37 pm

    Hi there Anne, thanks so much for this – I will def check it out – and thank you for reminding me of Annie Dillard. When I was writing the article, I had in my mind her last name was Gillard and couldn’t find her!! Her prose is gorgeous..

    Thanks too to other commenters for suggesting other writers to explore.

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