Recently, the only thing that has kept me grounded (besides books) is seeing some bonafide earthy ground and the things that come from it. I go for walks in the woods, sit on the beach, tend my plants, or enjoy the crazy drama that is bird watching. In exchange for things like picking up trash, growing some flowers, dropping birdseed, or literally nothing at all (mother earth is that generous), these outdoor outlets help to revive a little bit of my dampened spirits. However, while I am immensely grateful for currently being in this position, not everyone has the same level of access to the outdoors, or the same inclination to be a part of it. But what can we do if we want to change that for ourselves? If we want to gain some of that nature-made comfort despite society's tendency to wipe all the fresh and green things from the area? If we want to grow our knowledge and love of nature, but the biological studies, environmental impact assessments, and honkin’ big words within nature topics don’t really represent the kind of nature that we personally find familiar?
Well I find that budding interests are best helped along by some baby steps. Even when I was younger and privileged enough to have access to country living, camping, and the safety to wander outside, I still preferred the comforts of my bedroom bookshelves and CD player to scouring the pond with my sisters. On that I have regrets, but my personal appreciation of nature actually started about five years ago with -- great shocker -- books. No, I didn’t intentionally start reading the denser environmental material (I’m a creative writing major here); I also didn’t randomly go to the library and grab a big environmental essayists like Rachel Carson or John Muir. Instead, it was the settings of certain stories, and the significant roles that animals or plants played in the narratives I was already exposed to, that peaked my interest: a powerful forest, a peaceful pond, a helpful woodland animal, insect sounds, or the contents of the sky! With a helping of nature documentaries on the side, I began to learn about the varied representations of resilience, solace, community, beauty, and necessity to be found in the natural world, and about the more negative themes that could develop in its absence.
Once my interest peaked, it was as if a dam had been demolished. Certain creatures definitely wormed their way into my heart (here’s to you, humble pigeon), and I was suddenly noticing things in my day-to-day life, working harder to stay grounded and focused. The dance of the low-tide anemones that I barely missed stomping on; the family of racoons wandering alongside my bus stop in the early morning; the colorful patterns on bugs that a kid would hand me during my stint as a preschool teacher. Only then did I feel engaged enough to seek out Nature titles and their sections in bookstores. I just wanted to dive more deeply into the surprising poetry of local ecosystems.
Looking back on these past few years, this shift in my reading habits gave me a stronger sense of place -- both for the new place I have moved to after leaving my childhood home in Michigan, and my own place within the global environment.
Now, that’s not to say that once we find the genres, settings, locations, and definitions of nature we are comfortable with, we should limit ourselves to what we know we like. There are so many other important topics tightly woven with aspects of the natural world that we can miss out on if we only study the aspects of nature that are comfortable. Instead, our reading horizons should be broad enough to encompass all the beautifully fragile horizons of the world. Then hopefully, if nothing else, we can all find some more nature-made comfort in these difficult times, and support that nature in return.
So, when you’ve finished looking a little deeper into the books you already enjoy, here is a list of titles that I heartily recommend as follow-ups. I think of them as my happy medium books: neither too entrenched in scientific research, or any one genre, place, or kind of writer, nor too tricky for spotting nature themes. Plus, I feel some kindred spirits amongst these narratives...others that found solace or felt a bit more grounded within some kind of “nature”.
Please comment here or tag us on social media if you read any of these titles, you have other books with strong natural elements to recommend, or if you do any of your future reading in or near the outdoors (in a socially distanced manner). Above all, stay safe while you feed your curiosity, find comfort, and grow your knowledge. We hope to see you soon.