In my garden I hear the cooing calls of doves dotting the telephone line. I catch heady whiffs of gardenia bushes and jasmine in the salty breeze that grazes my skin. And I even spy a squirrel sitting on the fencepost twitching its tail, on the alert.
I admire the gift of writers who can transform the common scenes of an ordinary day into beautiful, uplifting and inspiring settings. One of the masters of nature writing is John Muir, a naturalist and author who is forever remembered as an early advocate of preserving America’s wilderness.
"The waving of a forest of the giant Sequoias is indescribably impressive and sublime, but the pines seem to me the best interpreters of winds. They are mighty waving goldenrods, ever in tune, singing and writing wind-music all their long century lives." Chapter 10: A Wind Storm in the Forests, “The Mountains of California” by John Muir, 1894
Without his talent for words and love of the landscape, we likely would not be able to enjoy the national parks that exist today. It’s his ability of creating a strong sense of place that inspires me to write about the environment in the way I do.
It is the goal of any writer to give readers the same vivid images of place that the writer witnesses. Few can do it on first attempt. What matters is the consistent effort to share one’s personal appreciation of natural wonders with others and hopefully plant the seed in readers to go out and experience the natural world for themselves.
There is not just one right way to write about nature. But in novel writing, I believe the power of setting best captures a reader’s imagination when viewed through a character’s point of view. The character brings to the moment all her history, her attitudes, her emotions to add depth and poignancy to the landscape. All her senses should be used to heighten that emotion. What does she hear, see, feel, taste and touch?
I admire the skill and legacy of John Muir to move the reader to action. I admire the way Pat Conroy can make me see the Lowcountry in the same, passionate manner of a young man. What novel settings can you vividly recall days, weeks, even years after reading? Study the way in which the author described the scene. Which senses are being used? Is the description a short, poetic sentence or a lyrical paragraph or two? What is it that strikes at your heart?
If you want to better connect with your writing on the environment, The Sofia Institute in Charleston, South Carolina has asked me to lead a one-day retreat in June on the subject. Together we’ll explore the natural beauty around us and work to help you find your own voice in nature. Click here for more information.