My strongest childhood memories intersect with nature, and before I became the adult "me" (bill paying, zoom calling, lipstick-wearing) I was much closer to the natural world. In honor of summer as a time for enjoying the outdoors, this post is focused on a compilation of books that have a unique focus on the natural world.
Trees, Elephants, Octopi and Hawks
Scientists are starting to understand how trees talk to each other. This idea is fictionalized in the wonderful Pulitzer Prize-winning book of fiction, The Overstory by Richard Powers. I highly recommend this novel and how it asks the question, how do humans create networks with and in the natural world?
Seeing a recent article about elephants on the move in China reminded me of an amazing book from years ago, The White Bone by Barbara Gowdy which is completely told from the point of view of a small group of African elephants. This book is a tour de force and seminal for how to write from a very different point of view.
The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery is a first-person non-fiction investigation into cross-species love and admiration. In it, Montgomery traces the unique physiology of the octopus and comes to understand their beautiful alien abilities. She writes, “A lion is a mammal like us; an octopus is put together completely differently, with three hearts, a brain that wraps around its throat, and a covering of slime instead of hair. Even their blood is a different color from ours; it’s blue, because copper, not iron, carries its oxygen.” The deeper we investigate our fellow species, the more we can learn about ourselves.
And lastly, the wonderful nonfiction memoir H is for Hawk by Helen McDonald is about falconry, but also intersects with her grieving process and the passing of her father.
Writing prompt: Are there any distinct memories from your childhood that take place in nature? Summer camp? Swimming in a cold lake? The first time you rode a horse? Getting caught in the rain?
Pick a memory and exercise your descriptive muscles. For inspiration savor the words journalist Ligaya Mishan uses to evoke frankincense in this New York Times article on the history of using essential oils, "Over time, it was burned at temples from Karnak in Egypt to just north of modern Shanghai, and strewn over funeral pyres of the rich and powerful, giving off a dark scent with a warm halo, invoking must and musk, black pepper and sun-baked lemons, fallen pine needles and the fugitive sweetness of scorched wood."
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