What we learn from Nature writers

diamond-lake-pathThoreau, Leopold, Emerson, Carson, Dillard, Kimmerer, Goodall, Ackerman and Teale are just a few of the people who over time fit into the genre of Nature writers. There are so many both historical and current writers I could go on listing for a long time but these are the ones I am currently reading.

We can learn so much by slowing down and reading what they have to say about our world – the world of plants, weather, animals, air, water and land. We can learn about what was here and what we are missing as we hurry through our days in our cars, busses and planes. There are the details to learn about animals lives, of how the weather changes and what effect it has on the world outside our door. We learn what was the flora and fauna in the 1800’s or the 1950’s or now.

There are lots of facts to learn but for me a retired teacher who is learning how to slow down there is one overwhelming thought that hit me hard this week. I was reading A Conscious Stillness: Two Naturalist on Thoreau’s Rivers by Ann Zwinger and Edwin Way Teale after reading about Emerson’s life. What I found interesting is that these people in their day were seen as lazy, and no good. They sat around, walked the woods, and wrote in notebooks for long periods of time. It was perceived as doing nothing.

Yet from all of them we have great reflections of our world, information about animals and plant interaction and a deeper understanding of who we are. We have begun to understand our relationship to the world we live in. We have changed our laws to protect our animals and land or at least we continue to try and do that.

These people were very busy while being still.

Jane Goodall sat for hours, days and weeks “just” watching the chimpanzees in the forest. Thoreau and Emerson were both known for their long periods of time walking the woods, and writing. Annie Dillard writes of her time in the small woods outside her cabin and it is clear she spends days and weeks just roaming the area where she lives.

So as I looking at my personal nature journal and wonder why I can’t seem to write in the way I would like about the world around me I realized that indeed I had bought into the myth of needing to be active, moving and doing at all times. I might have agreed with folks along ago that Thoreau was just being lazy out at that cabin. I mean for christ sakes his mother walked out and brought him lunch and fresh cookies quite often. What was that man doing anyway? (Lots it appears from his writing.)

So looking at myself I realized I go walking but it is as if I am on a race track. I tell myself I am walking slowing, looking closely but within the half hour I am down the path and on my way home – there are things to do. The hidden message there is “you are wasting your time dear girl.”

My own natural ADHD pushes me to get busy as well.

  • you are not doing enough,
  • what tasks have your completed today?
  • did you make that list of things to get done today?

These message ring in my ears all the time. They are echo’s of my mother and the society I grew up in. I am afraid I have sounded that same alarm of working hard, keep moving to both of my children.

So now at the ripe young age of mid 60’s I am taking a lesson from these wise nature writers. In order to get close to nature and my own internal thoughts I need to find time and space. In order to write and create I need to find long periods of time and space – not just 20 minutes here and there.

It is ok to sit and watch the lake for more than 5 minutes. It is fine to walk slowing through the woods, to sit awhile and allow the woods and critters to settle back into their routines so I can see, feel and hear the daily life of the woods.

My own frustration about being able to create comes in part by my own unwillingness to stop myself and listen, watch and know the details of the world I live in.

Slowing down is hard in a world that is speeding up!



About Joanne Toft

I am a retired Minneapolis Public School teacher. I walk, garden, care for my Grandson and write. Life is good!
This entry was posted in nature, Reflection, writing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What we learn from Nature writers

  1. Ramona says:

    Beautiful picture! Near your house? Best line from your post: “The people were very busy being still.” Hush those other voices and enjoy every busy and still moment.

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