What is Nature Writing?

By Ron Harton

Nature writing is not just any writing that happens to mention an animal or "the outdoors."

Nature writing is born out of love, respect, and awe. It finds its subject during days of close observation of the natural world. It finds its voice in the relationship with nature developed during those days.

Nature writing begins with observation. Nature writing records what the writer has seen and seen again. It may begin with a casual, serendipitous occurrence, but it moves far beyond the casual to record details noticeable only by those who have looked deeply. Nature writing often adds to personal observation the observations and experiences of others. Nature writing is concerned with what scientists have discovered, but the focus always returns to the personal observations of the writer. The writer is part of the natural world and draws the reader into that world, too.

Nature writing is about the writer as well as about nature. Nature writing is exploratory and reflective. The nature writer probes deep within and discovers how nature affects personal life. Nature writing seeks to learn not just about nature; it seeks to learn from nature. The nature writer approaches nature as a student approaches a respected and admired teacher. That attitude gives nature writing a positive, encouraging tone. The nature writer seeks to learn and communicate the wisdom of life found in nature.

Nature writing is relational. It is about the interconnections, the interrelationships, that form our world. Nature writing binds people to the natural world with words of understanding, respect, admiration, and love. These words may be formed in any literary type or style. The languages and forms of nature writing are many and varied, but each seeks to share what the writer has felt and known in times of living with nature.

Nature writing also must be positive. While it recognizes the challenges, difficulties, and tragedies in the world, nature writing presents the hope inherent in the world--the flower blooming in the crack of the sidewalk, the doves rebuilding yet another nest, the chickeree storing cones in the fall, gray whales migrating along the crowded California coast to their winter home in Baja. Nature writing puts the hope, and faith, and love of the world into words for the world.

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