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Nature writing, it seems to me, is literature written from the soul of the world, from the heart of the wild, from the mind of some actual places on earth. The nature writer is asked to remember the earth – this living, breathing, eternally shifting, violent and tranquil planet that is mankind’s only home – in every sentence they write, no matter what that sentence has in its sights. It is not so much a literature about nature as a literature written from nature’s point of view. In it, when it is any good, men and women are conceived of in their fullest humanity, as beings upon the earth, as animals who sing and talk, suffer, build, love, hate, destroy and finally die, like all organisms. Nature writing depicts the lives of men and women and children as miraculous, angelic organisms; and it sets those heavenly lifeforms down here on earth, in animate, sentient places, in country alive with music and micro-organic life, with slow-dancing mountains and among the nations of birds and weathers.
The ecological crisis we find ourselves staring at now arises out of humankind’s estrangement from the wild world. And literature has been complicit in that break-up – too many books have been written in denial or ignorance of the rest of creation. As a result of the great divorce of human culture from the more than human world, our humankindness has been abstracted and diminished, and the wild world whose health we depend upon now sickens.
Nature writing, in this context, must do more than appreciate nature. It is not a recreation. Its project is re-creation – the creation of new ecological myths to live by; the restoration of hope; the singing of the world. It is a prayer for a more bounded, humble, thankful, generous way of living.
Mark Tredinnick, is an essayist, poet, critic and writing teacher. His books include The Land’s Wild Music (Trinity University Press, 2005),The Little Red Writing Book (UNSW Press 2006). Mark is also the editor of A Place on Earth: An Anthology of Nature Writing from Australia and North America(UNSW Press and University of Nebraska Press, 2003)