Artists of all kinds find inspiration in the natural world. They include painters like Van Gogh, photographers like Ansel Adams (and many since), and writers of poetry, essays, fiction, and more.
An Esquire article last year claims we are living in a golden age of nature writing, brought about by technology fatigue and environmental concern. From Thoreau’s classic Walden to Delia Owens’ recent hit novel Where the Crawdads Sing, the Goodreads website lists more than 50,000 “Popular Nature Books.” With the natural world all around us, we could consider it the ultimate writing prompt, as we seek our inspiration in inchworms or icefields, our back garden or a distant desert.
The first book I read by Barbara Kingsolver—High Tide in Tucson, a collection of essays—impressed me greatly, and I still think of the hermit crab that became her daughter’s pet. The crab’s behavior baffled Kingsolver until she realized it was still operating on its native Caribbean time zone, despite living in Arizona.
Alaska, where I was born and spent many years, has inspired hundreds of writers. When I was younger, Alaska was too familiar to impress me, but that has changed as I’ve seen more of the world. John McPhee’s book Coming into the Country helped me see the grandeur of the landscape I’d grown up with. More recently I read Kristin Hannah’s novel The Great Alone. Set on the Kenai Peninsula where I grew up, the story took me back to my young adult years in a place that still attracts free spirits, hotheads, and eccentrics.
I confess, I find some aspects of nature to be scary. Hiking in grizzly country holds no appeal whatsoever. Bears inhabit my most vivid nightmares, and large animals in general provoke anxiety. Fortunately, wilderness and large wildlife aren’t requirements. The city park’s duck pond or a clear night sky offer plentiful inspiration to a careful observer.
Please share your favorite nature-inspired book in the comments. And enjoy the following nature-inspired poem I wrote:
I cannot explain, can barely understand that it is true,
But I have been transformed
By picking berries in the park.
Thoughts of pie and jam drew me there,
Where I faced the brambles twice my height,
The vines that cling and grab.
Beyond the outer shield of leaves,
Guarded by a spider’s sticky net,
I knew the sweetness hid,
And brushed aside the veil,
And lifted up a weighted branch
Raising juicy treasure growing wild.
Engulfing weaker plants,
Winding up the trunks of trees.
No human hands cultivate or prune
And yet the warm September sun
Glints off full black berries.
Before I left there I was pierced by thorns
And stained by berry blood.
My bowl was full.
Yet more than belly has been filled.
A wonder fills me too, that the world has been so made
That I can carry home these blackberries
For which I neither worked nor paid,
But just showed up in faith on a September afternoon,
Bowl in hand,
To receive this grace.