Nature writing is about the environment, the care and respect of the land, living with beings that share the land with us and the spiritual aspects of existing in a living universe. In This Incomparable Land, Thomas J. Lyon categorizes the genre into a wide range of themes and styles:
- field guides and professional papers
- natural history essays
- solitude and back country living
- travel and adventure
- farm life
- man’s (sic) role in the environment
With the exception of field guides and professional papers, nature writing is most often published in the form of the personal natural history essay. Henry David Thoreau is considered the originator of the form.
The essay often consists of natural history information and personal and philosophical ideas in response to the natural world.
The genre is distinguished by descriptive passages, interwoven with scientific facts. There is an art to reading scientific articles and elegantly incorporating the information into an essay. It is very pleasing when it is done well.
Descriptive passages describe time and place and what is experienced by the senses. In reading a natural history essay, the reader has a sense of actually being there. Of being able to see, smell and feel the place in their mind’s eye.
The genre often issues challenges and calls to environmental activism, like in Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.
The natural history essay often uses story elements in the style of creative nonfiction.
Not just nonfiction but fiction too has focused on the land and the wider universe. The land herself, is often a character in a story and shapes people and events.
The nature journal is an important piece of equipment for the writer. The nature journal often serves as a place to record thoughts, feelings and facts. A journal can provide a rich source material for further work. From the journal, full-blown essays, articles, op-ed pieces and stories are written.
The natural history genre written in English has a long history in North America. From the late 1600s and early 1700s to the present day, written works celebrating the land have found a ready audience. The lush abundance of the American continents and the wise management of land by indigenous Americans enthralled the European newcomers. Even if at the time the Europeans didn’t understand the wisdom, knowledge and sacrifice if took to keep a land abundant and healthy.
By reading natural history works and connecting with the local land we live in, we can come to a deeper and more profound experience of life here on Earth.