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

Beneath the Tree

I’ve lived in the same house since I was six years old. As I was growing up and beginning to write, I was discovering the world at the same time, often through the same outlet. I’d find myself walking around my backyard, which is an acre of woodsy land, looking for inspiration. One day I came across a tree I hadn’t seen before; it was huge, with the perfect dip in the grass at the base of the trunk for me to lay a blanket down and stretch across with a notebook. That spot quickly became a safe haven for me, where I would escape to journal about my day or write to distract my mind.

I started out by writing cheesy love songs. I’d lean against the tree, staring up at the branches touching the sky, and write sappy songs about it. Eventually the songs turned into poems, and I needed more to write about than just leaves and the sky, so I started writing about my own life. However, even though I may have found new places to bring inspiration and experience into my writing from, a piece of that spot has always been present in my writing. I continued going out there, encouraging myself to write outside. Not only did the tree spark ideas within me, it was also a quiet place for me to find peace of mind, and relish in it. My home has always been pretty hectic, so that escape was something I really needed to get somewhere personal and intimate in my writing.

Even today, I think nature is extremely prevalent in my writing, whether I purposely implement it or not. I wrote a poem about the relationship between a mother and a daughter, and how deep their relationship truly went. Woven throughout the poem was a metaphor of the daughter being a plant that her mother, a gardening hand, was tending to; she was trying to prune her into perfection. Often, I read through a piece I’m working on and notice some form of symbolism or metaphor that I hadn’t even purposely used, but it makes the poem or story all the more powerful. That’s what amazes me about nature; it’s always there, it’s often ignored or taken for granted, but it always finds a way to weave itself into the deeper meaning of everything, to have purpose in writing, and in our lives.

Throughout my years in Creative Writing programs, I’ve often been asked if I have a favorite place to write, or thing to write about. Each time the question is posed, my tree is the first thing that comes to mind. It doesn’t matter if I’m writing about it or not, I’m still writing because of it. After ten years, it still manages to inspire me. Now, when I have a rough day, I still find myself walking to the end of my property with a blanket and a notebook, ready to sit down and wait for the inspiration to hit me. It almost always does.

Makinley Dozier, Website/Submissions Editor

Phoenix

I’m always writing about soil, and water, and trees, and places that revolve around these things. I never intend on the first go round with a first draft of prose or a poem to add those things, but it always seems to happen. One of my favorite poems I’ve written, is in which feminine perspective in regards to the loss of societal control over one’s body is shared. The voice that houses this perspective is encased in lotus flowers, as I offer up another version of the section of Homer’s Odyssey, where Odysseus comes across the island of the lotus eaters.

Ironically, I’m currently writing a short story in which a man loses his wife to the sea, and now he’s haunted by siren song that drives him to madness. I know both of these pieces seem mystical, and are based off of supernatural creatures and stories, but I suppose that’s because the natural elements that construct them feel supernatural themselves. That’s probably why all the great, old, and dead writers people study probably wrote about running around in the forest, being in awe of everything.

I think I’m always subconsciously adding the natural world into my work because I am subconsciously always trying to explain things bigger than myself. The thing that is bigger than me can be societal expectations and the span of time from which they grew, or it can be racial commentary, or a good old existential/spiritual questioning. This is easy for me to do, combining nature in my pieces, because nature is something that always has been and always will be bigger than people. Even though man manipulates the earth, the rocks, the water, and the trees, the Earth will still be here, regenerating itself long after people are gone. The natural world is like a phoenix. No matter how many times it comes to the brink, no matter what occurs within it and upon it, with time, it will heal itself. Nature is a balanced thing. Humans disrupt that balance. Then there’s chaos. So I think that juxtaposition itself too, draws me to use nature. It’s like the stories we’ve heard of people taking things from the land they aren’t supposed to, facing great consequences.

Humanity has built itself up to think that we are the best thing there is to offer, that we are all there is, when in reality, a hurricane can destroy us so simply, and with such ease. Earthquakes swallow us up like old gods waking up from a nap. It’s insane to think about, how perfectly constructed it all is. If you have nature and people at war with each other, man may seem to win, but there’s always the underlying knowledge that we are so temporary compared to everything else. The land only needs itself, it never ever needed us, and on the occasions it does, it’s only because we have compromised it in a way that makes our own conscious feel heavier.

Nature is all powerful. It is reliable. It is something that cannot be questioned. That is why I feel the need to incorporate it into my words, because I want my words to be like that, even if sometimes I don’t know it. It’s beautiful and unknown and an enigma we can see and cannot see at the same time. I think I crave the balance. That’s why there’s always rolling waves, or petals, or soil birthing new life in my words.

Kiara Ivey, Layout and Design Editor