Writing the Natural World

Historic Cabin at Audubon Acres, a property of the Chattanooga Audubon Society. Photo by Ray Zimmerman.

On September 14, 2023, I presented a session on nature writing at Audubon Acres. Participants discussed several exemplary works and spent some time writing. There was time to share our writing. I have included a list of resources I distributed during the session. These exemplary works are an excellent start if you want to explore writing or reading about the natural world. If I left out a favorite of yours, please feel free to add it as a comment.


 “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver perennially surfaces, and I smile every time I read it. To read this poem, I turn to my copy of Bright Wings, a book of poems about birds, edited by former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins and richly illustrated by wildlife artist David Sibly. Online copies abound.

“Crows” by Mary Oliver is a poem I discovered in the book Crow Planet by Lyanda Lynn Haupt.

J Drew Lanham, America’s best-known Black birdwatcher, wrote “9 Rules for the Black Birdwatcher,” which appears on the website of Orion Magazine.

“The Smoky the Bear Sutra” is a fabulous poem by Gary Snyder. When he first published it, he appended the words, “May be reproduced free forever.” https://sacred-texts.com/bud/bear.htm

 “In Mystic” by Joy Harjo appears in her book Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings.


North with the Spring by Edwin Way Teale is nature writing as travel. It was the first in his Pulitzer Prize-winning series, The American Seasons.

The Living Year by Mary Q. Steele is a lovely nature through the seasons book I discovered when I read an excerpt in the noteworthy anthology The Woods Stretched for Miles. The Living Year is out of print, but I obtained a copy from a used book dealer. She wrote this book in a style Aldo Leopold popularized with his book A Sand County Almanac several years ago.

Ecology of a Cracker Childhood is a nature memoir by Janisse Ray. I reread it occasionally. Her other titles are well worth a read, as are those of any of these authors.

 “The Cowboy and His Cow” is a nature polemic by Edward Abbey opposing grazing on federal land. He once read it at the University of Wyoming, a school with ties to beef production, and noted the comments shouted from the audience.

 “Speaking of Nature” by Robin Kimmerer is an essay on the relationship between language and ideas. Speaking from a Native American perspective, she mentions the “Indian Boarding Schools” as an attempt to erase Native Culture. It appears on the website of Orion Magazine.

Thirteen Ways to Smell a Tree by David George Haskell is an appeal to reaffirm our connection to the natural world. It was published in the UK, but Blackwell’s ships free to the US.

Fictional works in which the natural world plays a significant role.

The Sky, The Stars, The Wilderness is a collection of short stories by Rick Bass and a great place to start.

I have ordered a copy of Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens and look forward to reading it.

I have yet to read The Woods of Fannin County by Janisse Ray, but it is on my list.

The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway is a classic story of nature as an adversary.

The Bear by William Faulkner is a story of vanishing wilderness.

Resources and how-to publications for nature writers.

Orion Magazine features some of the best nature writing.

The Greatest Nature Essay Ever by Brian Doyle is an essay on how to write a nature essay.

Tell It Slant is a how-to book on writing nonfiction with practice exercises at the end of each chapter. The chapter on engaging the senses is foundational.

The Naturalist by Barry Lopez is an essay on how he relates to the natural world and how to become a naturalist.

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