Nature Writing

Many of us—especially during these days of isolation and social distancing—find joy and inspiration in nature. In that spirit we offer these writing prompts, designed by YpsiWrites volunteer Lisa Eddy, to help you slow down and appreciate the natural world. There are some for those who are able to get outside and observe, and some for those who remain indoors but appreciate nature through the window.

“Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain.”  ―Henry David Thoreau

Writing in and about the natural world can stimulate creativity, questioning, problem-solving, and increase our sense of wonder and well-being. 

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    Prompt #1: Number the Ways 

    In his poem, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” Wallace Stevens reminds readers that in order to see something new, we might need to look in different ways. 


    How might you see one plant, animal, or body of water, or another feature of the landscape in more than one way? What if you look at it from far away, close-up, from different directions? How does your relationship to what you’re seeing change how you see it? How many different ways can you look at one thing? 


    Perhaps you can see one plant, animal, body of water or another feature of the land from inside. Rather than look from different positions, what if you look at different times of day or night? How does what you see change from morning, noon, evening, night--or through the seasons? OR How many memories can you conjure about a favorite tree, pond, creek, river, or other part of a landscape you know well?

    Prompt #2: Number the Ways 

    In his place-based, urban, young adult novel, “a tale told in ten blocks,” Look Both Ways, Jason Reynolds focuses on one neighborhood around the school where the characters attend. He describes the route that Cynthia takes as she leaves school:

    She walked along the side of the school, dragging her fingers on the red brick of the building until she reached the line of trees at the back. Not exactly a forest, just a single line of maples that created a barrier between the school and the road. When Cynthia reached the tree line, the trees thick with limbs that looked less like arms and more like outstretched legs--thick-rooted yoga trees--she hiked her jeans up above her ankles and tip-toed, because the land seemed to always be muddy there. 



    Reynolds describes the size of a group of trees without using numbers. How might you describe the size of some feature of the landscape without using numbers? How might you use color, shape, comparison, simile, or another way to describe? What details that you can see, hear, smell, taste, or touch will help describe size?


    The description focuses on a character’s route through the neighborhood. Perhaps you can see or remember a route that’s well-traveled. Where does the route lead? Who takes the route? For what purpose? How might you describe the sizes of things one might see on this route? 

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    Prompt #1: Water

    “There are degrees and kinds of solitude. An island in a lake has one kind; but lakes have boats, and there is always the chance that one might land to pay you a visit. A peak in the clouds has another kind; but most peaks have trails, and trails have tourists. I know of no solitude so secure as one guarded by a spring flood; nor do the geese, who have seen more kinds and degrees of aloneness than I have.” ― Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac 


    What kinds of bodies of water are within range? Are they temporary or permanent? Big or small? What is water doing? What effects is water having on the plants, animals, and humans? How does the water destroy and create? How is water creating solitude or society in the way it moves on the land? 


    Aldo Leopold writes of the yearly spring flood of the Wisconsin River, which he came to know intimately when he and his family bought and cared for a piece of land on the edge of the river. What body of water: pond, lake, creek, river, ocean or aquifer is special to you? What is it that you cherish about this body of water? What makes it special to you? Leopold writes elsewhere of how the flooding river brought objects that could be used on his farm. What useful gifts has your special body of water given you? 

    Prompt #2: Wind

    “In the marsh, long windy waves surge across the grassy sloughs, beat against the far willows. A tree tries to argue, bare limbs waving, but there is no detaining the wind. On the sandbar there is only the wind, and the river sliding seaward. Every wisp of grass is drawing circles on the sand. I wander over the bar to a driftwood log, where I sit and listen to the universal roar, and to the tinkle of wavelets on the shore.” ― Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac


    How can you see, hear, smell, taste, and/or touch the wind? How can you tell the direction and speed of the wind? The wind is going to be busy this week. What’s it doing? Find as many signs of the wind’s handiwork as you can. Like water, wind creates and destroys. What evidence do you notice of the wind creating and destroying?  


    We’re protected from the wind indoors, but also, we can’t feel the breeze on our skin. We can still see and sometimes hear the wind when we’re indoors. We can feel grateful for protection from the wind, but we can also feel frustrated by limitations, especially because we’re isolating to slow the spread of COVID19, which attacks the wind inside us, our breath. Explore the positive and negative experiences you’ve had with wind— or with the solitude you’ve experienced while practicing social distancing. 

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    Prompt #1: Signs of Spring

    “Is the spring coming?" he said. "What is it like?"...
    "It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine...”
    ― Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden 


    What are the signs of spring can you sense? What signs of spring can you see, hear, smell, taste, or touch? Which signs remind you of earlier springs in your life? What thoughts, feelings, or memories are triggered by the signs of spring you’ve discovered? 


    What are the signs of spring you notice in your world? The time change? The changes in daylight? The feelings inside? What are your favorite memories of springs past? What do you hope will “blossom” in your life this spring? 

    Prompt #2: Quiet Time

    “There is a way that nature speaks, that land speaks. Most of the time we are simply not patient enough, quiet enough, to pay attention to the story.” Linda Hogan

    Outside: Sound Map

    Find a place where you can settle in, quiet down, and listen for nature’s story. 

    Start with a blank piece of paper. Draw an X in the center of the page; that’s you. Next, spend as long as you can simply listening. When you hear a sound, write a word (peep) or draw a symbol (a beak) on the paper that shows where the sound is in relation to your position, in front of, behind, left 0r right of you. When your listening time ends, look at your sound map. What “story” does it suggest? What have you learned about the land and who lives there from listening? What thoughts and feelings came up while you were being a quiet listener? 


    "As the waves of perfume, heliotrope, rose, 

    Float in the garden when no wind blows, 

    Come to us, go from us, whence no one knows; 

    So the old tunes float in my mind, 

    And go from me leaving no trace behind, 

    Like fragrance borne on the hush of the wind.

    Sara Teasdale, Old Tunes

    What are some of your favorite sounds in the natural world? What sounds trigger strong emotions, positive or negative? What sounds trigger memories? Write about a time when nature “spoke” and you listened. OR Write about the sound-scape of one of your favorite spots in nature, the thoughts, feelings, or events that you associate with the sound of this place. 


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