Nature as an Emotion

Logan's picI was outside a lot as a kid; my dad took me to the woods, my grandma took me to the swamp, and I took up the habit of reading outside, beneath the adolescent peach trees we planted before moving from South Carolina. Not only did being outdoors afford me a wicked tan, but my contact with nature throughout my childhood has given me a foundation of ideas to spout from in my writing.

Emotionally, nature has a lot to offer in writing. As a general example, weather can impact a scene’s tone as strongly as making a character explicitly weep. The sun brings happiness. The heat brings stagnancy. The storm brings violence. The rain brings rejuvenation. But, to step even deeper, it helps me to draw from personal experience with nature in order to create a stronger emotional output within my writing.

Nature, for me, tends to be a communicative setting that my characters or poetic speakers interact with in a way that brings up certain childhood memories. I have written many times about one place called Kingsley Lake; if you live in North Florida, you may have heard of it, but otherwise, it’s a body unknown to most. This lake is where I have spent a week from each of my summers since I was nine. It’s a place where I feel safe, detached from the world, and uninterrupted. In other words, it’s pretty zen there, aside from the sunburns.

But what can I write about this place when it feels entirely positive? There is always some meat to an experience if you ponder it long enough. In my poem “Kingsley Lake Escape” (which you can read in Élan: Fall 2016 Online Edition at https://elanlitmag.org/issues/archives/), I had to dig for the reality of being at Kingsley Lake, and in doing so, I discovered how scared I am of leaving that place every year to return to reality. To communicate this idea, the natural aspects of the setting can be manipulated and interpreted in order to portray the appropriate emotions to match the intention. The main aspect of the lake that I focused on in the poem was the water, in its bathwater-like serenity that I wanted to communicate the calm of chilling in the lake. But there are a lot of other aspects of nature at the lake that I didn’t mention in the poem: the tree whose leaves spill over the lake house during bad storms, the sand that stains your feet beige by the end of the second day, and the heat lightning that silently lights up the sky when night rolls around and the air cools accordingly. In settings, nature can be used to make the reader feel almost any emotion; you just have to be willing to make the sensation personal, and in doing so, allow yourself to write from your own experiences with storms, forests, and other natural occurrences that hold emotional potential to draw from.

Logan Monds, Co-Social Media Editor

The Human Nature of Nature

Chelsea Ashley Feb Blog PictureGrowing up, I wasn’t a big fan of the outdoors. I was a brownie in a Girl Scout troop, but I always skipped out on the camping trips. The thought of sleeping outside of a house where bugs were most definitely present and there was the prospect of wild animals never seemed alluring to me. I sometimes walked around parks with my friends, but if a bug even buzzed around her heads at a pitch too high for our liking we’d make our way back inside. I found air conditioning and glass sliding doors more comforting than any ducks’ pond or shady tree.

Since I have started writing, I have learned to pay attention to the smaller details. I’ve been in line to buy an item of clothing and heard a single sentence from my fellow customers behind me that spark an idea in my head. I’ve watched my mom fiddle with her bracelets and watch the sound they make tumbling down her wrist, and knew that I needed to write that moment down. The neon color of a hat will give me a story idea. The way a stranger glances back at her car while walking into a store will give me a poem idea. This attention to smaller details of human nature made me feel as if my lack of appreciation of actual nature could be holding me back in my writing life. How could I pay attention to the smaller details in life when I wasn’t paying attention to the smaller details that made up the physical realm of everyone’s lives? It’s the squirrel that seemed to run into the road as soon as it saw me coming at 45 mph. It’s the Japanese plum trees that grow bulbs of yellow and tilt slightly to the right. The smallest of details are the ones I pass everyday without even thinking about them, the ones that were here before I was born, before my mother was born, and beyond. I now try to incorporate the physical beauty of nature into my writing, but not in just the description of setting or comparing someone’s eyes to a blossoming rose. I try to compare physical nature to human nature, two very present aspects of our lives that are both predictable and unpredictable. I think that is why both natures are so interesting to write about. For example, the ocean is vast and what lives underneath is surface is both a mystery and perpetual fear to humans. However, what we know for sure is that the white bubble waves of the ocean will always come back and meet the shore. I think humans are like that as well. You can think someone is the most complex person in the world, but everyone has habits and flaws. Everyone has basic instincts that kick in when in a situation. It is human nature.

I still don’t find myself in nature, but it’s not because I’m avoiding it. Somehow as I’ve written about the beauty of nature and what it can represent in humans, I’ve found myself wanting to be surrounded by sunlight, whistling birds, and crouching trees with swinging moss. When I’m able to write outdoors, I breathe in crisp, spring air and breathe out whatever I’m writing, all while swatting at a mosquito the process.

Chelsea Ashley, Digital Media Editor

Let’s Talk About Birds

cockatiels for blogpostNature is wonderful—Baobab trees are mystifying, marvels of Peru are enchanting, and Nudibranchs are striking. The ocean is terrifying considering how much we do not know. In the words of Walt Whitman, “give me odorous at sunrise a garden of beautiful flowers where I can walk undisturbed”. But, given where I live, this is not quite so easy to access. I see many trees dripping with moss from inside my car as I drive and I see pruned wax myrtles swell with bobbing lizards while I walk my dog

Neither of these are particularly inspiring to me, having become a part of the early-morning/way-too-late-night generic landscape. They are beautiful, but spark no inspiration. They’re pleasant and colorful—like Mike and Ikes—but ultimately fade to the background.

For me, the exception to this rule is birds. Descended from dinosaurs, wickedly smart and completely misunderstood, these feathered heroes (when observed in the world) can’t not inspire. European Great Tits bludgeon bats to death. Nuthatches booby-trap their nests with poison. Lyrebirds can perfectly mimic the sounds of camera shutters and chain saws. They behave particularly, and often bizarrely, and the least flashy are sometimes the most interesting.

I have written many short stories and poems about birds, and briefly considered studying ornithology in college. I think the draw, for me, is both the mystique and the opportunities for anthropomorphization. Specific birds remind me of specific people, and for readers, a bird is something often easy to understand as the first layer of a metaphor.

There’s a reason that there are state birds (Florida’s is the Northern Mockingbird), and that ancient peoples worshiped them. They’re ancient, but still quirky. They’re hollow humans that can fly—and have personalities often just as defined.

PROMPT: Research a bird species and write a poem or short story where the bird is a metaphor for a person in your life or a character’s life. Fiction minimum 400 words; poetry minimum 15 lines.

Zarra Marlowe, Managing Editor