Why I Write About Nature
I have a friend who says that nature writing must be more than just a description; it must include a metaphor This friend is a fine human being, and I have no wish to disparage him or his excellent poetry. When I say that I respectfully disagree, please emphasize the word respectfully.
I am suspicious of anyone who only values nature for the uses we make of the natural world. I learned early on to question those who asked, “What good is a mosquito, or even a salamander?” I have sometimes responded with the answer, “What good are we?”
There was a time when I would have said that there is no difference between mining the earth for coal and mining it for metaphors. I have since changed my opinion.
I have even come to believe that the reasons for setting land aside make no difference, so long as they preserve the intrinsic value of the land.
Setting aside land is good, even if the land is preserved for solely utilitarian purposes, like increasing the property values of nearby real estate holdings, an idea that would have once sent me into a tirade of condemnation.
For me, nature’s value comes as solace and healing. I am willing to risk being condemned as a heretic when I say that for me, Glen Falls is a sacred space. It gets me away from the drone of highway noise from Interstate-24, thoroughly audible in my back yard, and the industrial noise of so-called civilization.
When I hear the gentle trickle of the dry weather steam or the booming choir after a heavy rain my spirit is revived. This renewal seems to be universal. It harkens to both the sacred Ganges of Hinduism and the use of running water for ritual cleansing by the Old Testament Hebrews. The Jordan River and John the Baptizer may come to mind.
Lately, I have been reading Father Richard Rohr’s book Every Thing is Sacred and the accompanying volume, The Universal Christ. His theology is incarnational, with a belief that God loves all things by becoming them.
According to his words, the creation of the universe is an outpouring of the Divine. Women and men, fogs, snakes, and even oak trees not only reflect God but have a part of God within. His thoughts dovetail nicely with those of Annie Dillard expressed in Holy the Firm, and Terry Tempest Williams in Coyote’s Canyon.
They also reflect the words of Robin Wall Kimmerer as related in her book Braiding Sweetgrass, and especially in her essay, “Speaking of Nature,” as published in Orion magazine. She speaks of the personhood of all living things and is thoroughly offended by the use of the pronoun "it" to refer to animals, plants, and even rivers.
I believe Father Rohr would feel right at home in her world, yet I have read that the Vatican has found his works to be “free of doctrinal error," This surprises me, but I must confess that I have little understanding of Roman Catholic theology or internal politics. Nevertheless, Father Rohr is said to take great pride in this stamp of approval.
I know I could feel at home in the world of any of these authors, and their works are among my favorites.
Well, time is running short for this project and there may be a crowd gathering outside my house with torches and pitchforks. Until next time, safe travels to all of you, my readers.