Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Nature Writing

I enjoy coming up with ways to describe a sunset, weeds, animals, or dirt using a combination of words I haven't seen before. That can be hard to do without reverting to "purple prose," which makes good nature writing a  challenge.

When I write a novel or short story, nature plays an important part in the setting. I may struggle with the plot or a relationship my characters are having, but I usually relax when I get to a place where I can interject a description of clouds, animals, water, trees, etc.

This summer I was asked to write a chapter on flora and fauna for a coffee table book on the history of Lake of the Woods, Oregon to be published next year. Below is one of the paragraphs I wrote for it.

The lake itself supports a variety of waterfowl. Some nest here. Others make it a stopping point during migration. From the campgrounds, resort, or lakeshore you can watch an osprey, similar in size yet whiter than an eagle, fold its wings, dive into the water feet first, and come up with a fish. Also seen on or near the water are great blue herons, Canada geese, grebes, buffleheads, and sandhill cranes. Occasionally a flock of American white pelicans will land on the lake. How delightful it is to watch these snowy birds with huge beaks and nine-foot wing spans soar through the air with the grace of birds half their size!

In 2011 I won a prize for a nature essay on tumbleweeds. Here is an excerpt.

Upwind from the road, a lone tumbleweed about the size of a bear cub bounded across the scant vegetation and over the crest of a gentle rise where it paused for a few seconds before leaping into the air and bouncing across the road. Strong-limbed, and with a few seeds left to sow, the tumbleweed rolled up the ditch bank into the waiting arms of a cluster of weeds with similar heritage, weeds stacked three feet deep against a barbed wire fence that shadowed the road as far as the eye could see. The thick pile of weeds made for a soft landing, but the thorny arms therein refused to let go, and the hapless tumbleweed’s gypsy days were over.

The story in my novel Brute Heart takes place in several natural settings. Most are in eastern Oregon. The one below describes a forest west of the Cascades.

The thick tangle of evergreen and deciduous trees embraced every imaginable shade of green, from the green-black undersides of the fir boughs to the chartreuse velvet moss that wrapped around the tree trunks and clung to the tops of rocks in the streambed. Vine maples, with sleeves of new green foliage, stretched across the rapidly moving water, their arms so long they sometimes entwined with limbs from the opposite side of the stream to form a leafy canopy.

More nature writing is included in a novel to be released (I hope) this year. The story takes place in Colorado.

The plip, plip, plip of melting icicles signaled the beginning of what amounted to spring in Ophir Loop. A misty rain, hard to distinguish from low clouds, hovered over the gorge once or twice a week. Snow was still being measured in feet above the timberline, but bursts of wild green dusted the slopes. The creeks had begun gurgling again, and the pussy willows growing along their banks were silver with catkins.


Every once in a while something on Facebook resonates with me, and I save it for future use. How appropriate this one is for a post on nature writing! 



 


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