March 1, 2006
Why Write About Nature?
††††††††††† What is it about nature that so compels people to think, and especially write, about it?† Before attempting to answer this, many will counter with "well, what is Nature?"† However, the topic of defining what "nature" is will be reserved for other discussions.† This particular analysis will maintain the traditional definition of nature being the animate and inanimate parts of our world that are not man-made.† So how can something not of our fashion attract us so?† And why, above all, would someone write about it?
††††††††††† The fascination of nature is due to a number of things.† From an interview with Stephen Harrigan, he notes that much of the interest in nature in earlier times stems from a sense of necessity: before machines and industry, there was a dependence on the land, plants, and animals.† This means that they had to know the terrain, the specifics of animals and their habits, and the specifics of plants and their uses just in order to survive.
††††††††††† Today, the perseverance of nature interest is due to a much broader spectrum for review.† Most of this spectrum is consumed by curiosity on a more profound level, with the majority of society now being outside the strict dependence of all aspects of nature for survival.† Life is full of questions about things we cannot begin to answer or understand.† These questions are sometimes even impossible to ask properly because the sheer understanding necessary to ask the question is more important than the answer itself.
††††††††††† One of the things that nature can manifest for us is the reality of the life cycle.† A human's life cycle is roughly eighty years from beginning to end.† How can it just come and go?† Is there a meaning outside of that 80 years?† What significance and meaning can an ant or flower have over its much-shorter life span?† Trying to find a larger reason is difficult.† "How does the intellect perceive impermanence and change? How does it comprehend the fact that a life can flourish for a season, die, and vanish like the morning fog?" (Hanson).† But this difficulty towards comprehension attracts us as a challenge.
††††††††††† It's as if nature manifests for us the reality of our insignificance.† "Holding just the memory of its brilliance, I am rendered mute and blind, senseless in the face of a mystery I canít speak" (Hanson).† The human race is constantly trying to understand this "mystery."† The best they can do are such things as personify it or make connections to "only elements of nature which have human meaning attached" (Finch, 570).
††††††††††† But nature continues to remain mostly unknown and intimidatingly powerful.† Some people may embrace this and take nature on as a new frontier (Kennedy).† However, most people try to control or "hide from nature by covering it up with our works or our words, to control it with our simplistic technology or our narrow ideas, to cut it down to our size" (Finch, 573).
††††††††††† So why write about it?† "The nature writer's job is not to limit or encompass nature, not even necessarily to explain or interpret it, but to show it to us in all its scope...and in so doing to extend our own humanity" (Finch, 573).† Some do this strictly by relaying scientific information to others, building among the readers a sense of knowledge and respect for the natural world.† Some come more from a literary standpoint, initially inspired to write by their "general love of literature" (Finch, 570).
††††††††††† Sometimes, an author is so inspired by their adventures that they will want to write them and share them, even if none other than to have a hard copy of the memories for themselves (Kennedy).† Some are so driven by the epistemological motives that they feel they have to start a dialogue (albeit one-way) in an attempt to "understand the nature of the universe and the relationship between human beings--or between the human self--and the natural world" (Slovic via Barnhill).† Many are also driven by political motives, attempting to "persuade audiences to embrace a new set of attitudes toward the environment."
††††††††††† Going hand-in-hand with their decision to write about nature, an author must also choose their style in which to write.† Most of the styles teeter between prose and poetry.† In trying to explore and learn more of the mystery of nature, science alone may not always work.† Finch quotes Henry Beston to saying that "poetry is as necessary to comprehension as science."† Scott Slovic quotes William Lines as saying that there is a need to use a "particular language to effectively characterize and defend the things we love," in this case nature and the environment.† Even for political purposes, authors still strive for "environmental movement that has been inspired bu the work of poets" (Slovic: Marginality, 2).† On the contrary to poetry, prose can, by just as effective, overwhelming the reader with the undeniable implications of environmental concern from a bombardment of facts.
††††††††††† In short, there is no singular reason, but a barrage of reasons for one to be attracted and involved in nature so much so as to write about it.† One commonality throughout all of the reasons is a foundation of awe.† Nature is big.† We are small.† We are most certainly not alone.† The stories are infinite.† Which one do you want to write?
Barnhill, David.† "Nature Writing and Ecocriticism."† David Landis Barnhill.† 2005.† University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh.† 19 Feb. 2006 <http://www.uwosh.edu/faculty_staff/barnhill/ES_243/0%20pp%20outline%20Nature%20Writing%20&%20Ecocriticism.doc>
Finch, Robert.† "Being At Two With Nature."† The Georgia Review, Mar. 1991:† 567-574.
Hansen, Susan.† "Why Write About Nature?"† Essay.
Harrigan, Stephen.† Interview by Dimitri Hammond.† 17, Feb. 2006.
Kennedy, Joy. E-mail interview by Dimitri Hammond.† 19, Feb. 2006.
Slovic, Scott.† "A Paint Brush in One Hand and a Bucket of Water in the Other: Nature Writing and the Politics of Wildernes: an interview with Rick Bass by Scott Slovic."† Weber Studies.† 1994.† Weber State University.† 15 Feb. 2006 <http://weberstudies.weber.edu/archive/archive%20B%20Vol.%2011-16.1/Vol.%2011.3/11.3BassIterview.htm>
Slovic, Scott.† "Emotion, Narrative, Environmental Policy."† Carolina Environmental Program.† 2005.† University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.† 15 Feb. 2006 <http://www.cep.unc.edu/symposium/2005/abstracts/Handout-Slovic_Scott.pdf>
Slovic, Scott.† "Marginality, Midnight Optimism, and the Natural Cipher: An Approach to Thoreau and Eiseley."† Weber Studies.† 1992.† Weber State University.† 15 Feb. 2006 <http://weberstudies.weber.edu/archive/archive%20A%20%20Vol.%201-10.3/Vol.%209.1/9.1Slovic.htm>