Writing About Nature

Target audience: High school students.

Requirements: Observation, curiosity, imagination, language skills, writing materials.

One way of exploring and honouring the natural world is to write about it. In Australia, most literary writing about nature has been in verse. Murray Bail’s novel Eucalyptus is a clever exception. Perhaps you have studied the poetry of Judith Wright, who was also a passionate conservationist, or David Campbell. ‘Nature writing’ usually refers to literary prose that takes some aspect of the natural environment as its central subject. It makes use of careful observation and informed description – so stay alert in biology classes – but is not ‘objective’ scientific writing. The writer’s relationship with the subject may be stated or implied, and literary devices are freely employed. North America has a fine tradition of nature writing, along with a high regard for the essay form, but it seems that on our continent, non-indigenous culture has been slower to develop a deeper, more respectful knowledge of the extraordinary richness of species that has evolved here. You might like to think about why that is so.

Mark O’Connor’s Poem

Timoshenko Aslanides poem Blakely’s Red Gum

Judith Wright’s poem Magpies

Our Aranda snow gums, you might think, aren’t in quite the same aesthetic league as their sub-alpine cousins, gloriously wet with snow. But there is a narrative poem just waiting to be written about this precious remnant population of lowland pauciflora. All vegetation is part of a larger narrative of climate, geology, competition and human impact, and these young, upright trees have their own story of survival. Dedicated people have fought for and secured their protection under law, but how might climate change affect these trees in the future? Look at the large, dead trees: one is as magnificently contorted as an ancient snow gum of the high country. What can it tell us about the wind and climate in the frost hollow over two hundred years ago? Sadly, like the other stags, it was killed by human thoughtlessness in 1992. One hot day a Parks employee was spraying briar roses under the old trees; the chemical vapourised in the heat and destroyed them. Now the only weeding that takes place close to the snow gums is done carefully by hand.

An informal essay on the Aranda Bushland

ACTIVITIES

1. Read some nature poems, old and recent, in an anthology (e.g. Penguin) of Australian verse.

2. Find something, however apparently insignificant, that intrigues you about the Aranda Bushland and find out more about it.

3. Write anything – a four-line poem, a descriptive paragraph – and see where that leads you. Writing begets writing and is an adventure in itself.

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