I often used to think I could never really write about nature, or write well about nature, because I never went to these amazing natural places. I live in Iowa, where less than one percent of our native prairie remains, and so it often felt like a lost cause. Growing up on a farm, I spent a lot of time in nature, and I probably observed more than I thought I did. Yet when I got to my first nature writing class in college I felt like I had absolutely nothing to offer. I didn’t even know where to find nature. As far as I was concerned, I was miles from anything anyone would consider nature.
After college I got a job working for a nonprofit conservation organization. Part of my job was running the social media, and I was amazed by the jaded comments coming from people much older than me. I remember one man specifically who responded to a John Muir quote I posted…
“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity…”
And said there was no such thing as wilderness in Iowa. While Iowa doesn’t have the kind of wilderness some other places in the world have, and it is largely touched by man, I think the hopeless attitude is a worthless attitude.
John Muir also said,
“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”
This has been the attitude I have taken as a nature writer, or even as conservationist and human being. Nature can be found anywhere, if you’re looking for it. I don’t get out of the city very often, and I’ve had moments with nature that were just as meaningful to me within the city limits as ones I’ve had on an open prairie. Are the experiences the same? No, of course not. But does that mean one is less meaningful than another? Absolutely not.
It may be true, may be true, that one must see the tree in the wild to see the tree in the city. I’ve certainly become more interested and aware of nature since I’ve started visiting prairies regularly, but I think that is because I’ve had wonderful teachers. I’ve seen nature with teachers who were extremely knowledgeable, and aware. And they taught me to observe. A skill I think most young people are without.
I’ve noticed amongst friends who are around me frequently an increasing awareness of nature and its presence in the world around them. While riding in the car with a friend last weekend he pointed out a bird and said, “What is that? The one with the orange breast? I see them everywhere.”
I was a little astounded that a 24 year old man didn’t know what a Robin was, but I was happy to teach him. I hope there will always be those who are willing to teach others about nature. And I hope there will always be those who are willing to learn.