It was three years ago that I entered the door of David Hamilton’s nature writing class at the University of Iowa. David was an older gentleman who had been at the University for many years. I was always impressed by the calm and thoughtful way he went about his work, and his knowledge about nature. At the time I couldn’t identify a lot more than a Robin or a Crow. David encouraged all of us to become an expert in one thing, and I chose birds. I bought my first bird guide ever, a small Iowa bird guide, at Prairie Lights bookstore. I have more bird guides and can identify more than two birds now, but I’m by no means an expert. I suppose that will be my life’s work.
The first couple of weeks in David’s class he emphasized that the best way to become a nature writer was to go out and observe nature and write about it. You don’t have to go far, you can just go out your door in the city and find nature to observe and write about. Or you can get on a bike and go a little further and maybe see a little more. Or you can get in a car maybe get out of town a bit and maybe you’ll see a little more. You can go as far as you want, but being a nature writer or nature enthusiast is a lot less about going to great places than just about observing the nature around you.
That’s always a comforting thought for me, as I often get stuck wanting to write about nature but feeling like I’m not qualified enough to do so. I feel like I need to be Henry David Thoreau and go out and live in the backwoods to write any observations worth reading. It’s not good enough to write about the Mourning Doves or Rock Pigeons outside my window or even the trail I visit two miles from my house. It’s not big enough.
I’ve been writing about nature ever since I took David’s class. What’s more, I’ve been learning about nature ever since I left David’s class, and in a time when Americans are more disconnected from nature than ever I think that is meaningful. That class was the very slow beginning of the process that has led me to the point where I am now. Disillusioned by the speediness of the world around me and content to sit and enjoy a quiet moment as I move slowly through the world around me, noticing what comes by.