Sandra Neily here: What if nature-based fiction or passages work better to bring us close to the richness and power of the physical world than any science course we might take? What if they deliver more magic, more empathy, more urgency, and more wisdom than a cross-section or diagram ever could?
This week I am repeating and updating a 2019 post after seeing the nature based fiction page on my author website is the site’s most visited page.
When I travel around on presentations, I share out these quotes and suggestions, including a favorite moment from my recent work. I’d love to hear about your choices for a strong nature moment.
“Deep in the forest a call was sounding, and as often as he heard this call, mysteriously thrilling and luring, he felt compelled to turn his back upon the fire and the beaten earth around it, and to plunge into the forest, and on and on, he knew not where or why; nor did he wonder where or why, the call sounding imperiously, deep in the forest.” Jack London, The Call of the Wild
“The sigh of all the seas breaking in measure round the isles soothed them; the night wrapped them; nothing broke their sleep, until, the birds beginning and the dawn weaving their thin voices in to its whiteness.” Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
“The clouds were building up now for the trade wind and he looked ahead and saw a flight of wild ducks etching themselves against the sky over the water, then blurring, then etching again and he knew no man was ever alone on the sea.” Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea
“As I looked about me I felt that the grass was the country, as the water is the sea. The red of the grass made all the great prairie the colour of wine stains, or of certain seaweeds when they are first washed up. And there was so much motion in it; the whole country seemed, somehow, to be running.” Willa Cather, My Ántonia
“When he says ‘Skins or blankets?’ it will take you a moment to realized that he’s asking which you want to sleep under. And in your hesitation he’ll decide that he wants to see your skin wrapped in the big black moose hide. He carried it, he’ll say, soaking wet and heavier than a dead man, across the tundra for two—was it hours or days or weeks? … It’s December, and your skin is never really warm, so you will pull the bulk of it around you and pose for him, pose for his camera, without having to narrate this moose’s death.” Pam Houston, Cowboys Are My Weakness
“We were floating on the thin film that divides the fish world from the human world. I could feel hot air on my rear end, but every other part of me was cool. Hair on my arms drifted up and down like water plants seeking microscopic food. Rotating my head only slightly, I could breathe and then return to the wet, green world.
The water was so clear I could see every grain of sand and each cloud shape that, far above us, shadowed rocks and drifted on.
In slow motion, Moz turned over rocks, lifting tiny things into the current. Soon they were bumping off my mask and I could recognize them. When I smiled, escaping air bubbles bounced the stonefly larvae toward shore. Their shelled segments arched in the effort to find new rock homes for their outstretched waving legs.
Something glittered and I held out a finger to snag it. Not much bigger than an inch, a future caddis fly had woven a hard pupa case around his larval self. This one must have been an artist. It had chosen tiny pebbles flecked with bright mica flakes and glued them together to make its cave. The creature inside waited to emerge as a winged insect that would feed fish—if it lived long enough. The stream’s current rotated the pupa case into my hand. Inside it, tiny wings vibrated.” Sandra Neily, Deadly Turn
More Suggestions (Reviews are in quotes. My personal notes are not.)
Heat and Light, Jennifer Haigh. “ … characters whose lives are increasingly bound by the opposing interests that underpin the national debate, it depicts a community blessed and cursed by its natural resources.” And “… when an author can tell a beautiful and compelling story about fracking, well, you know you are in the presence of something special.”
Breaking Point, C.J. Box. Two EPA employees are murdered. Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett thinks it might be Butch Roberson whose dreams of retirement income are shredded when the EPA declares his lands a wetland. NY Times best-selling author Box has won every major mystery award going.
Winter Study, Nevada Barr. “Soon after Anna Pigeon joins the famed wolf study team of Isle Royale National Park in the middle of Lake Superior, the wolf packs begin to behave in peculiar ways.” All of her mysteries are set in vivid and various National Parks. All rip nature onto the page.
Skinny Dip, Carl Hiaasen. “…is about “a young, handsome marine biologist whose expertise is marginal and whose insatiable greed drives him to collude with a crooked farm tycoon who owns large vegetable fields adjacent to the Everglades, which he relentlessly pollutes with fertilizer run-off.” Hiaasen’s best-selling satires pit Florida’s outdoors against relentless stupidity.
The Secret Wisdom of the Earth, Christopher Scotton. “The events of this fateful summer will affect the entire town of Medgar, Kentucky, beset by a massive mountaintop removal operation that is blowing up the hills and back filling the hollows.” NY Times raves: “a page turner.”
A Night Too Dark and also her Killing Grounds, Dana Stabenow. Alaska’s many natural resources provide conflict in most all her novels from mineral wars to fishing turf battles, to big oil up against native tribes. “Her over 17 novels about the Aleut PI Kate Shugak are an outstanding series. She’s 5 foot 1 inch tall, carries a scar that runs from ear to ear, owns a wolf/husky dog named Mutt and tries to survive the worst Alaskan wilds throw at her.
The Monkey Wrench Gang, Edward Abbey. In it, Hayduke says “No one knows precisely how sentient is a pinyon pine, for example, or to what degree such woody organisms can feel pain or fear, and in any case the road builders had more important things to worry about, but this much is clearly established as scientific face: a living tree, once uprooted, takes many days to wholly die.” In my novel, Deadly Trespass Patton says it’s, a “classic hymn to lawbreaking on behalf of the natural world.”
And more: The Overstory, Richard Powers * Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens * Bearskin: A Novel, James A McLaughlin * Barkskins, Annie Prouix * Flight Behavior, Barbara Kingsolver * The Country of the Pointed Firs and Other Stories, Sarah Orne Jewett * Watership Down, Richard Adams * The Beans of Egypt Maine, Carolyn Chute * The Weight of Winter, Cathie Pelletier * Massacre Pond, Paul Doiron * The Great Alone, Kristin Hannah
Sandy’s novel “Deadly Trespass, A Mystery in Maine,” was a finalist in the Maine Literary Awards, a recipient of a Mystery Writers of America national award and a national finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest.. Her second Mystery in Maine novel, “Deadly Turn” is now in Sherman’s Books and on Amazon in Kindle and paperback. She lives in the Maine woods and says she’d rather be “fly fishing, skiing remote trails, paddling near loons, or just generally out there.” Find more info on her website