Some nature writers have an incredible ability to transport us into the wild. Their essays convey the green calmness of being immersed in and cocooned by a natural place. Or that sense of recognition that within ourselves we possess the same universal spark of life ever present in the wilderness.
Reading about nature for relaxation
These past few weeks have been busy here at home. We have had a birthday, kids with colds and lots of housework to catch up on. I’ve been worn out at the end of each day and have discovered nature writing as a way to unwind.
I used to swipe through Facebook updates to relax before I go to sleep, but have found social media more stimulating than relaxing. Lately I have taken a Facebook break and instead have been reading Kindle samples of classic nature literature.
Finding out about the Transcendentalist movement
I have stumbled upon a whole movement of nature writers through my favourite book by Duane Elgin, “Voluntary Simplicity: Toward a Way of Life that is Outwardly Simple and Inwardly Rich”. A group of exceptionally talented writers from the late 1800’s that belonged to a movement called Transcentdentalism.
According to Duane, Transcendentalist views flourished in the early to mid-1800’s in America (with some writers later influenced by these views in the 1900’s). The best examples of this way of thinking are reflected in the lives and writing of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, both of whom I am sure you are familiar with.
Beliefs held by Transcendentalists were:
- the world is infused by a spiritual presence
- by living a simple life we can most easily encounter this “miraculous and vital Life-force”
- a path of self-discovery can lead to, according to Ralph Waldo Emerson, “an organic synthesis of that self with the natural world surrounding it”.
Experiencing the universal life-force in nature
The concept of experiencing our true selves/God/the universal life-force through close communion with nature really appeals to me. I have always been unable to articulate in words how I feel when I am bushwalking in the rainforest, gazing out over the waves at the beach, or sauntering through my acerage garden.
These writers’ essays give voice to the ancient sense of timelessness, familiarity and peace that I am sure we all feel when we are present in these natural places.
When we have to be inside and long for the outdoors, the works of these writers according to Stefanie from So Many Books are “Something to take my mind outdoors while my body is stuck indoors.”
Discovering Transcendentalist writers
There is a shortlist of Transcendentalist nature writers whom I have come to admire greatly for their gentle and simple style of writing and their ability to express the spirit infusing nature that moves us:
- Henry David Thoreau (most famous for his work “Walden” about his time spent living simply in a cabin at Walden Pond)
- John Muir (a naturalist and father of the national park movement in America)
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
- Walt Whitman
- Aldo Leopold
I would like to share with you some of my favourite nature writing excerpts.
“On the sandbar there is only wind, and the river sliding seaward. Every wisp of grass is drawing circle in the sand. I wander over the bar to a driftwood log, where I sit and listen to the universal roar, and to the tinkle of wavelets on the shore.” – Aldo Leopold
“This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.” – John Muir
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear, nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.” – Henry David Thoreau
“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.” – Henry David Thoreau
“This is thy hour O Soul, thy free flight into the wordless,
Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson done,
Thee fully forth emerging, silent, gazing, pondering the themes thou lovest best.
Night, sleep, and the stars.” – Walt Whitman
“But if a man would be alone, let him look at the stars. The rays that come from those heavenly worlds, will separate between him and vulgar things.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“To the attentive eye, each moment of the year has its own beauty, and in the same field, it beholds, every hour, a picture which was never seen before, and which shall never be seen again.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“In the presence of nature, a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows. Nature says, — he is my creature, and maugre all his impertinent griefs, he shall be glad with me” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Other ways to connect with nature
Experiencing nature and spirit through writing is a pastime secondary, but not inferior, to stepping outside and immersing ourselves in the fresh air and sunshine. There are so many other ways to feel the pulse of life in nature and ourselves that can be an antidote to the stress and busyness of work and everyday life. I like to do some of the following things each day when I can:
- cloudwatching and naming the clouds
- gardening and getting my hands in the soil
- tracking the weather in a weather log
- sitting in the sunshine drinking coffee
- playing outside with my kids
- sitting on the grass in the cool of afternoon
- walking the neighbourhood with no end in mind
- taking photos of flowers, wildlife and beautiful landscapes
I wonder if you read the books of any of these nature writers or have any other favourites?
Note: The nature writers above are all American. Living in Australia I have found that nature writing here mainly takes the form of novels and poetry. We have some incredible historical and contemporary writers and poets here that speak of the Australian bush and sweeping landscapes. But there is not a dedicated nature writing genre that exists here as for America, and I have not been able to find a wealth of Australian nature essays to read from. The joy in reading from the American nature writing genre is in the evocation of the Universal Nature, not from reading about particular places or environments.