Turning Nature Into Literature

The basis for all great writing begins with language and vocabulary.  The words chosen for a work of poetry or prose determine what sort of picture is painted and how readers imagine the scene in their minds.  Words are the structure for this form of art; they give life to what might be a dull description.  They excite the senses, making it seem as if you are there.  Words are completely unique to the level of writing, the subject matter, and even the audience.  Sadly, in our modern time of technology as life, some words that aren’t used as often are being omitted from dictionaries to make room for words associated with tech.  Many of these new additions have a newspeak feel to them; phrases such as “cut and paste” have even been added to the Oxford Junior Dictionary in lieu of words like “catkin” and even “acorn.”  In an article by Lucy Purdy titled “Nature Writing Resurges Despite Dictionary Cull” nature writer Robert Macfarlane is quoted from his new book, Landmarks, saying: “What is lost along with this literacy is something precious: a kind of word-magic, the power that certain terms possess to enchant our relations with nature and place.”

The result of precise word-choices is powerful imagery in a written work.  One reason many people prefer the book to the movie, or have to read the book before the movie comes out is because of this internalized imagery.  Words have a way of taking us to a place we may have never been able to imagine otherwise.  With movies, there in no room for imagination when it comes to how a scene or actor will look, or what certain happenings actually look like.  An informed nature writer will be able to describe the song of a robin or a raven; the sound, feel, and look of a waterfall or river; the smell of a field, a bear, or even just a flower.  Without this imagery, we are simply told what happened as if reading a journal entry, and while the possible drama in that may be alluring in itself, we cannot actually imagine being there with the author, experiencing nature the way the author did.

Some nature writers choose to form these words in such a manner that this imagery becomes host for intense poeticism.  John Muir was able to describe the side of a mountain in such a way that could bring tears to just about anyone who sees it for themselves.  His nature writing was part botany-part poetry.  Other writers stick to one form or the other, poetry or prose.

The ability to tell a story through prose, using journalistic accounts, strong nature writing vocabulary, and some poeticism in language allows the author to tell a full story that will truly engage readers.  The best nature writing gets down to the nitty gritty detail, describing every rock in the boot, but it also can depict a single sunset as the most beautiful sunset that has ever been seen.  Being alone in nature does this to a person’s mind, and therefore, putting this beauty to page allows readers to get into the mind of the author and be there too.



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