Last Day Response

As this blog began as a project for a college course, I had the opportunity to refine not only my knowledge of the subject matter, but also my ability to make an informed argument on the subject at hand.  For this blog, it has been the idea that nature writing inspires people beyond wanting to read more.  Nature writing has gotten people off of their sofas and into the great outdoors, seeking adventures they never dreamed they could possibly complete.

Due to the nature of this blog, on the last day of class we were prompted to do a reflection on our personal blogging experiences.  Because I have written for various online news blogs and have run my own blog for many years, I began this course project with a solid knowledge of how to operate a blogging platform.  Although I am new to WordPress, after about a days worth of clicking around on this site I was able to use this platform without difficulty.  The only tech support I needed came from asking people who were more familiar with WordPress than I am to show me a few simple tips and tricks.  Google is also a kind friend, filled with answers to most reasonable tech questions.  Learning HTML code for a more refined blog is as simple as Googling exactly what you’d like to learn.

Writing for an audience came naturally to me due to my previous writing experience, but figuring out the tone to use for this specific audience came more slowly.  By reading outdoor blogs and blogs about literature with a somewhat casual/academic crossover, I was able to fine-tune the style and tone on my own blog.

Delving deep into a topic such as the one seen on this blog is out of character for me on a casual level, but I hope to explore more niche topics regarding literature and expand this blog into a broader lit-as-life exercise.  After this course is over there will be tags and tabs for each subject.  I plan on looking at children’s lit next, then young adult, science fiction, and even different eras of literature and how each of these genres have affected and inspired readers.

 

 

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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.

 

The Proof is in the Pop Culture

The effects of reading about an author’s experience in nature can sometimes be so inspiring that readers seek to experience the same excursion in order for their own enlightenment or epiphany.  This is seen through reports from trail numbers increasing in a specific location after a book about that location has been released.  One instance of this is the phenomena surrounding Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild.  Since I’ve already explained reader’s reactions to this book, I’m going to skip the details and instead, speak about a pop culture reference to this sort of reaction.

In the Gilmore Girls revival, A Year in the Life, the mother, Lorelai, is shown reading this book in the first couple episodes only to have a mid-life crisis in the form of “doing Wild” later on in the show.  When she gets to California to begin hiking the Pacific Crest Trail she is met with hoards of novice hikers who ask each other “Book or movie?” in order to determine which women they should hang out with until the weather permits them to hike the trail.  All packed up and ready to hike the PCT, Lorelai Gilmore accidentally packed her hiking permit into her bulging bag and is unwilling to unpack it to find the permit.  She tries to sweet talk herself onto the trail, but the ranger is steadfast and denies her unless she shows proof that she’s been registered to hike.  Defeated, she goes off to find her go-to comfort food, coffee.  While searching for coffee all of the stores are closed and locked up.  Frustrated, she starts walking a small trail behind the stores.  She gets to the top of a hill when her epiphany comes — Lorelai got her Wild experience without needing to hike the entire PCT.

Cheryl Strayed herself watched this show and had an emotional reaction to the role her book played in the character Lorelai’s life.  You can read more about her reaction to this on Bustle where the author of the article states perfectly:

“Life imitating art and vice versa. Now that is meta.”

The Thoreau Effect

Throughout history no author has affected the genre of nature writing as much as Henry David Thoreau.  I came to Walden, myself, when I was a first year in college.  I had just fled the nest and was looking to spread my wings and go on some great adventure, but I was stuck in school without the means to do so.  Instead of some grand road trip (those would come later), I picked up an old leather-bound copy of Walden and began to read.  The things I learned in that existentialist-inspired book lead me to become the person I am today.  Road trips are plenty and often, materialism is sparse and only useful, and I often find myself driving the hour and a half to my parent’s cabin in the woods for quiet and self-reflection.  What Thoreau gave me, he gave to so many others, even including my hero, John Muir.

While researching the effects of reading Thoreau, and more specifically, Walden, I came across Smithsonian Magazine’s Walden’s Ripple Effect by Robert D. Richardson.  This article does a great job of pointing out Thoreau’s greatness by describing his philosophy for life:

“Thoreau forged a thought-out way of life, a philosophy that insists that the individual turn not to the state, not to the gods, not to society, or even to history for a guide to life, but to nature and the self. (Richardson, 2004)”

What Walden itself offers readers is a little more specific than Thoreau’s living philosophy.  In Walden, Thoreau juxtaposes his old life and traditional society to not simply getting away from it all, but to the idea of living off the land, for the land, and with some sort of community.  Readers are left with a sense of responsibility to not only themselves and the land, but to future generations.

“It offers readers an ethical view of life that begins in self-rule and ends in public and social commitment to the next generation. (Richardson, 2004)”

Although Walden is not exactly separate from Thoreau, and Thoreau is not exactly separate from Walden, what the book itself does is teach readers to try living with more intent.  Readers are encouraged to try and break away from traditional societal standards of living.  Thoreau is talking to each and every one of us.  He is speaking to the reader, and persuading the reader that there is more out there than how they grew up with their parents, in society, or even in civilization.

“Be rather the Mungo Park, the Lewis and Clark and Frobisher, of your own streams and oceans. Explore your own higher latitudes. (Thoreau, 1854)”

My advise to readers is to be aware when reading Walden, that Thoreau often visited his family, entertained guests, and was not that far from civilization.  A cabin in the woods would suffice for self-reflection and getting away from it all.  Do not be the Chris McCandless of the world, My Side of the Mountain is fiction, do not run away into the woods with nothing but your bootstraps.  Be inspired by Thoreau, but think for yourself and find some way that you can make a difference and see the world as an individual without repeating past mistakes.  In other words, be a responsible reader.

Can Inspiration be Destruction?

As observed via the phenomena surrounding the story of Christopher McCandless in the book Into the Wild and the aftermath of the fame of Chery Strayed from her book Wild, readers of nature writing have a strong desire to go outside and relive the adventures they’ve read about.  In both cases, some form of detriment has been seen in regards to either the people or nature itself.

In the case of Into the Wild, and the story of Chris McCandless, readers sought to try their hand at his escape from society into the backcountry of Alaska.  Many times, the readers end up as Chris himself did, somehow stranded in the wild with not enough food and no way to contact anyone for help.  Inspiration, in this case, turns to the destruction of human life.  Instead of learning from his mistakes, people are so inspired by his story that they seek it out, only to tragically repeat it.

The destruction surrounding the story of Wild by Cheryl Strayed comes from misunderstanding and mistreating the nature that readers seek to become one with.  In the story of Wild, Cheryl Strayed hikes the easily accessible, but long and painful Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).  This trail runs the length of California, Oregon, and Washington states.  While hiking, many outdoor veterans practice what is called Leave No Trace.  This means exactly what it says, that while in nature, you should leave it as you found it, if not better in case of other hikers being less diligent.  With novice hikers who are only there to try and recreate the amazingly inspirational story they’ve read, the PCT has seen an increase of trail trash from hikers who don’t know to practice Leave No Trace guidelines.

Readers of nature writing who are inspired to try these adventures out for themselves should do a good amount of research before going out into nature.  In general, everyone should remember that nature is harsh and unforgiving, but that we are too.  So, no matter what trek you might find yourself on, remember to respect that which you do not know, and try and know more than you think you do.

Effects of the 2016 Election

The effects from results of the 2016 election have not yet come to play.  The country is in a time of stagnation.  We are all holding our breath, waiting to see what will happen when the ball starts rolling in the court of the fully powered GOP.  One thing that has been mentioned by Donald Trump and his campaign is the continuing use of fossil fuels and the building of more coal mines—things that would directly affect our nation’s footprint on nature and our impact on climate change.

When talking of climate change, a lot of politicians fail to mention (or even remember) the effect nature has on children.  One would think that when children get outside and play in nature, they would want to keep that privilege available to their children and grandchildren as they grow older.  In my  experience, the more people experience nature through being in it themselves or reading of adventures in nature, the more they appreciate it and want to preserve it as it is (if not make it better, however that may be).

I suppose that all we can do it watch and wait.  We can still get the word out about the things that matter to us as individuals.  Concerning the environment we can stay vocal on the need for local green efforts such as banning plastic bags.  We can take our kids into nature, introduce people to the joys that being in nature brings us.  The emotional effects on being in nature are proven through things like forest bathing, but we need those forests to thrive and survive in order to enjoy this practice.  We can also teach and introduce children to books with strong nature themes like Julie of the WolvesCall of the Wild, and My Side of the Mountain in order to spark their interest and (hopefully) future conversational efforts.

In the meantime, I hope everyone takes care of their own psyche during this time of the unknown.  Stay strong, people.

“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Why Nature Writing?

America has had a long and arduous relationship with its wild spaces.  It has taken many years for us to get to know natures as we see it today.  From the founding of our National Parks Service, to our current understanding of climate change and our changing habits associated with it, the road to complete harmony with nature is still being paved, but the current understanding is a wide agreement that we do not know all there is to know and that in the mean time we should tread lightly.

For a little more than two centuries, writers have wandered out into the unknown to seek something within themselves, to become inspired, and to build a relationship with nature.  They have come back from their travels, however long or short, with a newfound respect for the wilderness and a poetic interpretation in this regards.  Henry David Thoreau might have only been a mile or two away from town, but his year at Walden Pond proved useful in sparking not only a movement inside himself, but the yearning for that same experience from others.

With this blog as a platform, I plan to explore the phenomenon surrounding this and many more experiences of writers in nature and how they inspire people to action.  I seek to answer the question of why.  Why does nature writing consistently inspire so much action and poeticism in its readers?