The Larger Purpose

The swamps of Florida. The snaking rivers of South Carolina. The jagged, clustered crannies of Appalachia. The humid pine smell of New Hampshire. When I think back on my experiences, I remember less the moods of the people, or the taste of food we ate, compared to the places I inhabited, even briefly. It’s hard to describe how much the natural world relates to my writing. I became obsessed with the crazy logic of ecology after spending a summer week kayaking, studying the sand banks, the deer tracks, the slick growth on river rocks, the schools of fish darting beneath my paddle, the patches of kelp knitting a dense forest in the toughest currents. My brain, six or seven hours a day without technology or books or conversation, took in every detail, and began to notice how quietly, but profoundly every passing molecule could be traced to every organism in those rivers. The pockets of moisture trapped in rocks as the levels lowered were just as essential to what I saw as the current of the water.

I’m not going to say that writing is like an ecosystem. That diction is like the algae, and characters are like the currents. My inspiration did not come so suddenly and with such blatant simile. Rather, when my focus shifted from looking at the world around me and thinking about a whole, observant of all the billions of steps and lives required to reach a single outcome, I became overwhelmed with the need to keep writing. When I wrote, not only could I suddenly be back in some of the most vivid places of my memories, but I could be part of all those tiny systems and lives not exposed in our day-to-day lives. Those days on rivers, and since then, my continued informal observations in ecology, environmental science, and animal behavior, have shown me a taste of how vast the world is. If I confined my learning to the typical high school guidelines: finishing teacher assignments, memorizing rules or events, I would stay stuck in studying the world in segregated, bound pieces. Writing is how I look at the people, the materials, the environment as a whole around me, and weave it all together. Connect the algae to the currents. Point out the tiniest details in my experience, and bring attention to a whole life or pattern otherwise unnoticed.

Nature is not just a part of writing to me. Nature is a lesson in why to write, how to write. How to take the micro and the macro, and lead other people to see the tiniest of pictures existing inside the biggest ideas.

Ana Shaw-Junior Editor-in-Chief