Nature Writing

NATURE: The World’s Biggest Membrane by Lewis Thomas

November 10, 2018

From The Lives of a Cell Viewed from the distance of the moon, the astonishing thing about the Earth, catching the breath, is that it is alive.  The photographs show the dry, pounded surface of the moon in the foreground, dead as an old bone.  Aloft, floating free beneath the moist, gleaming membrane of bright blue sky, is the rising Earth, the only exuberant thing in this part of the cosmos.  If you could look long enough, you would see the swirling of the great drifts of white cloud, covering and uncovering the half-hidden masses of land.  If you had been looking for a very long, geologic time, you could have seen the continents themselves in motion, drifting apart on their crustal plates, held afloat by the fire beneath.  It has [...]

POETRY: Covers the Ground by Gary Snyder

November 3, 2018

When California was wild, it was one sweet bee-garden…. (John Muir) Down the Great Central valley’s blossoming almond orchard acres lines of tree-trunks shoot a glance through as the rows flash by— And the ground is covered with cement culverts standing on end, house-high & six feet wide culvert after culvert far as you can see covered with mobile homes, pint size portable housing, johnny-on-the-spots, concrete freeway, overpass, underpass, exit floreals, entrance curtsies, railroad bridge, long straight miles of divider oleanders; scrappy ratty grass and thistle, tumbled barn, another age, yards of tractors, combines lined up— new bright-painted units down at one end, old stuff broke and smashed down at the other, [...]

NATURE: In The Mist Of A Summer’s Evening by Richard Jefferies

October 21, 2018

From The Pageant of Summer It is the patient humble-bee that goes down into the forest of the mowing-grass. If entangled, the humble-bee climbs up a sorrel stem and takes wing, without any sign of annoyance. His broad back with tawny bar buoyantly glides over the golden buttercups. He hums to himself as he goes, so happy is he. He knows no skep, no cunning work in glass receives his labor, no artificial saccharine aids him when the beams of the sun are cold, there is no step to his house that he may alight in comfort; the way is not made clear for him that he may start straight for the flowers, nor are any sown for him. He has no shelter if the storm descends suddenly; he has no dome of twisted straw well thatched and tiled to retreat to. [...]

POETRY: The Mosquito by Rodney Jones

October 14, 2018

I see the mosquito kneeling on the soft underside of my arm, kneeling Like a fruitpicker, kneeling like an old woman With the proboscis of her prayer buried in the idea of God, And I know we shall not speak with the aliens And that peace will not happen in my life, not unless It is in the burnt oil spreading across the surfaces of ponds, in the dark Egg rafts clotting and the wiggletails expiring like batteries. Bring a little alcohol and a little balm For these poppies planted by the Queen of Neptune. In her photographs she is bearded and spurred, embellished five hundred times, Her modular legs crouching, her insufferable head unlocking To lower the razor-edge of its tubes, and she is there in the afternoon When the wind gives up the [...]

NATURE: The Longest Day by Edwin Way Teale

October 6, 2018

From North With the Spring During all the days of our travels – in the Everglades, along the delta marshes, on a barrier island, in the Great Smokies, among the pine barrens and the Lilliput forests of Cape Cod and the green hills of the border – we had wondered vaguely about this final twenty-four hours of spring.  What would the day be like?  Where would we be?  What would we be doing?  In what surroundings, bright or gloomy, would we come to the end of our travels with a season? Now we knew the answers.  This was the final day, the summit of the spring. We awoke before four o’clock.  Already a clear sky was brightening above the birchtops outside our cabin window in Crawford Notch.  By four, robins were singing and the [...]

POETRY: The Snakes Of September by Stanley Kunitz

September 30, 2018

All summer I heard them rustling in the shrubbery, outracing me from tier to tier in my garden, a whisper among the viburnums, a signal flashed from the hedgerow, a shadow pulsing in the barberry thicket. Now that the nights are chill and the annuals spent, I should have thought them gone, in a torpor of blood slipped to the nether world before the sickle frost. Not so. In the deceptive balm of noon, as if defiant of the curse that spoiled another garden, these two appear on show through a narrow slit in the dense green brocade of a north-country spruce, dangling head-down, entwined in a brazen love-knot. I put out my hand and stroke the fine, dry grit of their skins. After all, we are partners in this land, co-signers of a covenant. At my [...]

NATURE: The Scavengers by Mary Austin

September 22, 2018

From: The Land of Little Rain Fifty-seven buzzards, one on each of fifty-seven fence posts at the rancho El Tejon, on a mirage-breeding September morning, sat solemnly while the white tilted travelers’ vans lumbered down the Canada de los Uvas. After three hours they had only clapped their wings, or exchanged posts. The season’s end in the vast dim valley of the San Joaquin is palpitatingly hot, and the air breathes like cottonwool. Through it all the buzzards sit on the fences and low hummocks, with wings spread fanwise for air. There is no end to them, and they smell to Heaven. Their heads droop, and all their communication is a rare, horrid croak. The increase of wild creatures is in proportion to the things they feed upon: the more [...]

POETRY: White Mountains by Robert Cording

September 15, 2018

At times they nested above us, Hugely fixed in silent considerings, Shadow lakes pooled along their sides As rafts of clouds passed across The sun. At other times, weightless As breath, chameleonlike, They could take the color of rain And vanish behind a scrim of cloud. Always expected and always strange— How, staying in exactly the same place, The mountains were continually leaving, Day after day, the gray rock At the peaks gradually darkening To smoky blue, becoming unmoored In the Chinese-misted drift of evening. All that summer as we read or turned From books, as we stood on the porch Or moved through our daily tasks Toward each other, they bridged Our pleasure and our pain. In the end We came to believe the mountains Brought us to [...]

NATURE: The Courage Of Turtles by Edward Hoagland

September 9, 2018

From The Courage of Turtles Turtles are a kind of bird with the governor turned low.  With the same attitude of removal, they cock a glance at what is going on, as if they need only to fly away.  Until recently, they were also a case of virtue rewarded, at least in the town where I grew up, because, being humble creatures, there were plenty of them.  Even when we still had a few bobcats in the woods the local snapping turtles, growing up to forty pounds, were the largest carnivores.  You would see them through the amber water, as big as greeny wash basins at the bottom of the pond, until they faded into the inscrutable mud as if they hadn’t existed at all. When I was ten I went to Dr. Green’s Pond, a two-acre pond across the [...]

NATURE: Hawk Roosting by Ted Hughes

September 2, 2018

I sit in the top of the wood, my eyes closed. Inaction, no falsifying dream Between my hooked head and hooked feet: Or in sleep rehearse perfect kills and eat. The convenience of the high trees! The air’s buoyancy and the sun’s ray Are of advantage to me; And the earth’s face upward for my inspection. My feet are locked upon the rough bark. It took the whole of Creation To produce my foot, my each feather: Now I hold Creation in my foot Or fly up, and revolve it all slowly— I kill where I please because it is all mine. There is no sophistry in my body: My manners are tearing off heads— The allotment of death. For the one path of my flight is direct Through the bones of the living. No arguments assert my right: The sun [...]

NATURE: Roses by Diane Ackerman

August 19, 2018

From A Natural History of the Senses  I am holding a lavender rose called “Angel Face,” one of the twenty-five rosebushes planted around my house.  For the first few years, the deer that frequent my yard would steal in at dawn and eat all the buds and succulent new growth.  Once they ate the bushes right down to the dirt, leaving only small knobs that looked like the velvet of incipient antlers.  I am used to embezzlers in the garden.  The first summer of grape arbor, I watched two vines evolve from flowers to succulent purple fruits, sense-luscious and nearly bursting with fragrance.  Each day, I watched them, waiting until the perfect moment of ripeness, imagining how it would be to roll the grapes around on my tongue, fresh, [...]

NATURE: August—The Green Pasture by Aldo Leopold

August 11, 2018

From A Sand County Almanac Some paintings become famous because, being durable, they are viewed by successive generations, in each of which are likely to be found a few appreciative eyes. I know a painting so evanescent that it is seldom viewed at all, except by some wandering deer.  It is a river who wields the brush, and it is the same river who, before I can bring my friends to view his work, erases it forever from human view.  After that it exists only in my mind’s eye. Like other artists, my river is temperamental; there is no predicting when the mood to paint will come upon him, or how long it will last.  But in midsummer, when the great white fleets cruise the sky for day after flawless day, it is worth strolling down to the [...]

NATURE: A Child’s World by Rachael Carson

August 5, 2018

From The Sense of Wonder  A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement.  It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood.  If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength. If a child is to keep alive his inborn [...]

POETRY: The Mocking-Bird by Frank Lebby Stanton

July 28, 2018

He didn’t know much music When first he come along; An’ all the birds went wonderin’ Why he didn’t sing a song. They primped their feathers in the sun, An’ sung their sweetest notes; An’ music jest come on the run From all their purty throats! But still that bird was silent In summer time an’ fall; He jest set still an’ listened, An’ he wouldn’t sing at all! But one night when them songsters Was tired out an’ still, An’ the wind sighed down the valley An’ went creepin’ up the hill; When the stars was all a-tremble In the dreamin’ fields o’ blue, An’ the daisy in the darkness Felt the fallin’ o’ the dew,— There come a sound o’ melody No mortal ever heard, An’ all the birds seemed singin’ From [...]

NATURE: Nature by Ralph Waldo Emerson

July 20, 2018

From Nature Chapter I: Nature To go into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society. I am not solitary whilst I read and write, though nobody is with me. But if a man would be alone, let him look at the stars. The rays that come from those Heavenly worlds, will separate between him and what he touches. One might think the atmosphere was made transparent with this design, to give man, in the Heavenly bodies, the perpetual presence of the sublime. Seen in the streets of cities, how great they are! If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown! But every night come out these [...]

NATURE: Birds That Are New Yorkers by Donald Culross Peattie

July 14, 2018

From The New York Times Magazine February is a good month in which to make friends with the birds of a great city.  It is often deemed the dullest page in the bright almanac of birds.  For all of nature February is the last, not the second, month of the year.  It is the hour before the dawn when, it is customary to say, nothing of interest happens.  Practically no birds arrive in February on their Spring migrations, and almost none of the Winter visitants depart. Yet where others have long despised to look, be sure that there is at least a grain of gold undiscovered, and sometimes a whole lode.  The spirit of discovery, true scientific discovery, is, after all, not concerned with the rare, but with the tremendous importance of the [...]

NATURE: Nature Near Home by John Burroughs

June 30, 2018

From Field and Study After long experience I am convinced that the best place to study nature is at one’s own home, – on the farm, in the mountains, on the plains, by the sea, – no matter where that may be. One has it all about him then. The seasons bring to his door the great revolving cycle of wild life, floral and faunal, and he need miss no part of the show. At home one should see and hear with more fondness and sympathy. Nature should touch him a little more closely there than anywhere else. He is better attuned to it than to strange scenes. The birds about his own door are his birds, the flowers in his own fields and wood are his, the rainbow springs its magic arch across his valley, even the everlasting stars to which one [...]

POETRY: Morphometry by Helen Macdonald

June 22, 2018

I have had live crows, hawks, owls, opossums, squirrels, snakes, and lizards so that my room has sometimes reminded me of Noah’s ark; but Noah had a wife in one corner of it, and in this particular our parallel does not altogether tally. (Alexander Wilson) I had an idea of this, is stacked with song & cool blood, bruised with salad herbs & oil Of petrae, callt oil of peter, salts, flats, larks. Wet feathers continue to rise in my breast Whereas your darker plumes operate a weak tacet broken in twain, se muer, to moult & speak for a hope For a moment or two for the pile of the land rocks back in a dubitable movement shiny as a climate sere As desert, it is all flush. Through a miracle of hatred an expansion of range will [...]

NATURE: A Wind-Storm In The Forests by John Muir

June 15, 2018

From The Mountains of California The mountain winds, like the dew and rain, sunshine and snow, are measured and bestowed with love on the forests to develop their strength and beauty. However restricted the scope of other forest influences, that of the winds is universal. The snow bends and trims the upper forests every winter, the lightning strikes a single tree here and there, while avalanches mow down thousands at a swoop as a gardener trims out a bed of flowers. But the winds go to every tree, fingering every leaf and branch and furrowed bole; not one is forgotten; the Mountain Pine towering with outstretched arms on the rugged buttresses of the icy peaks, the lowliest and most retiring tenant of the dells; they seek and find them all, [...]

NATURE: Orion Rises On The Dunes by Henry Beston

June 8, 2018

From The Outermost House So came August to its close, ending its last day with a night so luminous and still that a mood came over me to sleep out on the open beach under the stars.  There are nights in summer when darkness and ebbing tide quiet the universal wind, and this August night was full of that quiet of absence, and the sky was clear.  South of my house, between the bold fan of a dune and the wall of a plateau, a sheltered hollow opens seaward, and to this nook I went, shouldering my blankets sailorwise.  In the star-shine the hollow was darker than the immense and solitary beach, and its floor was still pleasantly warm with the overflow of day. I fell asleep uneasily, and woke again as one wakes out-of-doors.  The vague walls [...]

NATURE: About Trees by J. Sterling Morton

June 1, 2018

From Arbor Day Leaves  A tree is the perfection in strength, beauty, and usefulness of vegetable life.  It stands majestic through the sun and storm of centuries.  Resting in summer beneath its cooling shade, or sheltering besides its massive trunk from the chilling blast of winter, we are prone to forget the little seed whence it came.  Trees are no respecters of persons.  They grow as luxuriantly beside the cabin of the pioneer as against the palace of the millionaire.  Trees are not proud.  What is this tree?  This great trunk, these stalwart limbs, these beautiful branches, these gracefully bending boughs, these gorgeous flowers, this flashing foliage and ripening fruit, purpling in the autumnal haze are only living materials [...]

POETRY: Science by Alison Hawthorne Deming

May 25, 2018

Then it was the future, though what’s arrived isn’t what we had in mind, all chrome and cybernetics, when we set up exhibits in the cafeteria for the judges to review what we’d made of our hypotheses. The class skeptic (he later refused to sign anyone’s yearbook, calling it a sentimental degradation of language) chloroformed mice, weighing the bodies before and after to catch the weight of the soul, wanting to prove the invisible real as a bagful of nails. A girl who knew it all made cookies from euglena, a one-celled compromise between animal and plant, she had cultured in a flask. We’re smart enough, she concluded, to survive our mistakes, showing photos of farmland, poisoned, gouged, eroded. No one believed he really had built [...]