Are you a nature lover?
“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.” – John Muir, Our National Parks
You’re sitting at your desk, staring at the blank page that should be an essay. Out of all the times to have writer’s block, your mind picks the weekend before a crucial due date. You look around, trying to find inspiration in just about anything. The dirty clothes, magazines, and movie tickets scattered on your floor fail to get the brain going. Suddenly, a monarch butterfly graces your window pane. Mesmerized by its other-worldliness, you start writing.
Unless you’re Nabokov, a butterfly might not be enough to type the next great novel, but you get my point. Nature has always been a source for inspiration, wonderment, and wisdom – this applies to anyone, not just a nature lover. Sadly, we’re losing more and more of it everyday, but hope is not lost. Many communities, schools, and cities have taken initiative into their own hands; developing greener educational environments. For example, Moton Elementary school in Tampa Bay, Florida has created a gardening program that spans a student’s entire grade-school career. The program is a learning experience, with hopes to “gain awareness that food and flowers come from the ground.
Some of our greatest minds have been naturalist, botanists, and nature lovers. Where would we be as a nation without our National Parks? You have green thinkers such as John Muir to thank for that. Further, learning about nature through the passionate eyes of such men and women is inspiring for any student. Did you know Mr. Muir wept with happiness the first time he discovered the elusive Calypso borealis?
Whether you’re struggling to find some writing inspiration, or just need a good wave of intellectual curiosity, here are five naturalist books everyone should read. One last thing, make sure you read these under a tree, or by a babbling brook, well, just anywhere away from your Facebook. Enjoy.
5. Kindred and Related Spirits – The Letters of John Muir and Jeanne C. Carr Edited by Bonnie Johanna Gisel
“Fate and flowers have carried me to California, and I have reveled and luxuriated amid its plants and mountains nearly four months” – John Muir
In the rare situation of a light schedule, I enrolled in a three credit Nature and Religion course my senior year at Michigan State University. Though we only had a brief two days learning about John Muir, I was struck by his commitment. Recently, while searching the towering walls of books at Bargain Books in Van Nuys, I came across this charming collection of letters between the famed naturalist and his lifelong friend Jeanne C. Carr. It’s an excellent documentation of Muir’s growth as a botanist, as well as an incredible friendship.
4. Turtle Island – Gary Snyder
The first time I read about Gary Snyder was in Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums. As the inspiration behind the Japhy Ryder, Snyder’s ecological wisdom finds its roots in indigenous spirituality, animism, and Buddhism. He seems almost mad with natural contentment – Japhy notoriously treks the wilderness in the buff.
More than just a poet, Gary Snyder was a dynamic educator. In this collection of poetry and straight talk, you’ll find an incredible amount of knowledge behind his imagery.
3. The Spiritual Emerson – Essential Works by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Odds are you’re familiar with Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous essay Self-Reliance, but it’s a shame to just stop there. A pioneer of transcendentalism, Emerson preached, through poetry and prose, that any and all individuals must find their own unique relation to the universe. Whether it be in solitude, under an old oak tree with nothing but songbirds to keep you company, or in front of a classroom, mankind is lost without nature. This Tarcher Cornerstone Edition includes such provoking essays as Circles, Fate, and much more.
“Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.”
2. Silent Spring – Rachel Carson
The release of this book was paramount in starting the modern environmentalism movement. To put it simply, the natural world is as fragile as it is complex. Though our innovations are meant to make life easier, they sometimes cause dangerous side-effects. You may recall old footage from the 1950s of municipal vehicles driving down suburban streets, leaving a wake of chemical clouds in its path. What was so striking about this image was the children laughing and chasing the cars, encompassed by the mysterious cloud. The vehicles were spreading DDT, and its results were staggering . As the strongest pesticide the world had ever seen, DDT was successful in killing mosquitoes, and, at the time, believed to be safe.
Nowadays, the idea of inhaling DDT is terrifying. It’s a known carcinogen, and lethal to species other than mosquitoes. Thanks to the curious eye of some University students and professors, the mysterious death of thousands of birds caused an investigation that would lead to the poisonous culprit. Rachel Carson’s, at the time controversial, book, Silent Spring, allowed the world to become wise to the effects our actions have on the planet, and that we must be mindful of our relationship to it.
1. A Sand County Almanac: With Other Essays on Conservation from Round River – Aldo Leopold
“Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language.”
The finest environmentalist writer since Emerson and Thoreau, Aldo Leopold captures the wisdom of our enormous planet in the frame of Wisconsin’s countryside. The author/ nature lover Demands an ethical relationship to nature, as well as an effortless wonderment of its beauty.
Feeling inspired? Now that your essay is finished, how about a drive to Topanga park for a hike? Remember, inspiration can come from anywhere, but it’s up to you to discover it, Los Angeles!