I keep a copy of the Norton Book of Nature Writing on my bedside table. I read selections from this book every night for comfort and inspiration.
The collection includes some of my favorite writers like: Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, D.H. Lawrence, Aldo Leopold, Sigurd Olson, E.B. White, John Steinbeck, Rachel Carson, Richard Wright, Farley Mowat, Maxine Cumin, Edward Abbey, Edward O. Wilson, Sue Hubbell, Maxine Hong Kingston, Alice Walker, Annie Dillard, Linda Hogan, Diane Ackerman, Leslie Marmon Silko, Jamaica Kinkaid, Louise Erdrich, Barbara Kingsolver, and Michael Pollan.
Along with reading familiar writers, or as I consider it, visiting with old friends, I have been introduced to new voices within my Norton, voices like: Janisse Ray, Sharman Apt Russell, Evelyn White, Alison Hawthorne Deming, and Celia Thaxter.
Thanks to my brother, I have this book, my holy book, and I feel like I have enrolled myself in a private Literature of Nature Class. Here are quotes from some of the writers in Norton. Read them all or scan and choose a favorite. May these words inspire, challenge, comfort, or slow you down…
“I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks,-who had a genius so to speak, for sauntering…the word comes from sans terre, without land or home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally home everywhere…” -Henry David Thoreau
“The stars awaken a certain reverence, because though always present, they are inaccessible; but all natural objects make a kindred impression, when the mind is open to their influence. In the presence of nature a wild delight runs through man, in spite of real sorrows.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
“…for the last two days it has been the great wild bee, the humblebee, or “bumble” as the children call him. They play a leading part in my morning, mid-day, or sunset rambles, and often dominate the landscape…Large and vivacious and swift, with wonderful momentum and a loud swelling perpetual hum, varied now and then by something almost like a shriek, they dart to and fro conveying to me a new and pronounced sense of strength, beauty, vitality, and movement.” -Walt Whitman
“Talk of hanging gardens of Babylon, all Italy, apart from the plains, is a hanging garden. Thousands of square miles of Italy have been lifted by human hands, piled and laid back in tiny little flats, held up by the drystone walls, whose stones came from the lifted earth. It is a work of many, many centuries. It is the gentle sensitive sculpture of all the landscape. Which shows that it can be done. Man can live on the earth, and by the earth without disfiguring the earth.” —D.H. Lawrence
“A dawn stirs on the great marsh. With almost imperceptible slowness it rolls a bank of fog across the wide morass. Like the white ghost of a glacier the mists advance, riding over the phalanxes of tamarack, sliding across bog-meadows heavy with dew. A single silence hangs from horizon to horizon.”-Aldo Leopold
“…shifting colors seemed drained from the horizons to form one gigantic rosette of flame and yellow and greenish purple. Suddenly I grew conscious of the reflections from the ice itself and that I was skating through a sea of changing color caught between the streamers above and below. At that moment I was part of the aurora, part of its light and of the great curtain that trembled above me.”-Sigurd Olson
“[Walden] still seems to me the best youth’s companion yet written by an American, for it carries a solemn warning against the loss of one’s valuables, it advances a good argument for traveling light and trying new adventures, it rings with the power of positive adoration, it contains religious feeling without religious images, and it steadfastly refuses to record bad news.” -E.B. White
“The edge of the sea is a strange and beautiful place. Not only do the tides advance and retreat in their eternal rhythms, but the level of the sea itself is never at rest. It rises or falls as the glaciers melt or grow, as the floor of the deep ocean basins shifts under its increasing load of sediments, or as the earth’s crust along the continental margins warps up and down in adjustment to strain and tension. Today a little more land may belong to the sea, tomorrow a little less. Always the edge of the sea remains an elusive and indefinable boundary.” -Rachel Carson
“There was the echoes of nostalgia I heard in the crying strings of wild geese winging south against a bleak, autumn sky. There was the tantalizing melancholy in the tingling scent of burning hickory wood. There was the love I had of the mute regality of tall, moss-clad oaks. There was the relish of eating my first fried fish sandwich, nibbling at it slowly and hoping that I would never eat it up.” -Richard Wright
“It seems to me possible, even probable, that many of the nonhuman, undomesticated animals experience emotions unknown to us. What do the coyotes mean when they yodel at the moon? What are the dolphins trying so patiently to tell us? Precisely what did those two enraptured gopher snakes have in mind when they came gliding toward my eyes over naked sandstone? And is the evolutionary line from protozoan to Spinoza any less certain? We are obliged, therefore to spread the news, painful and bitter though it may be for some to hear, that all living things on earth are kindred.” -Edward Abbey
“One spring afternoon, I was walking back down my lane after getting the mail. I had two fine new flowers to look up when I got back to the cabin. Warblers were migrating, and I had been watching them with binoculars; I had identified one I had never before seen. The sun was slanting through new leaves, and the air was fragrant with cherry blossoms, which my bees were working eagerly. I stopped to watch them, standing in the sunbeam. The world appeared to have been running along quite nicely without my even noticing it.” -Sue Hubbell
“Giant philodendrons tear apart the cars abandoned in the jungle. Tendrils crawl out of the hoods; they climb the shafts of steam shovels that had dug the highway. Roofs and trunks break open, turn red, orange, brown, and sag into dirt.”-Maxine Hong Kingston
“I used to have a cat, an old fighting tom, who would jump through the open window by my bed in the middle of the night and land on my chest. I’d half awaken. He’d stick his skull under my nose and purr, stinking of urine and blood. Some nights he kneaded my bare chest with his front paws, powerfully, arching his back, as if sharpening his claws, or pummeling a mother for milk. And some mornings I’d wake in daylight to find my body covered with paw prints in blood; I looked as though I’d been painted with roses.” -Annie Dillard
“The first time I was fortunate to catch a glimpse of mating bats was in the darkest corner of a zoo. I was held spellbound, seeing the fluid movement of the bats as they climbed each other softly and closed their wings together. They were an ink black world hanging from a rafter. The graceful angles of their dark wings opened and jutted out like an elbow or knee poking through
a thin, dark sheet. A moment later it was black, a silky shawl pulled tight around them. Their turning was beautiful, a soundless motion of wind blowing great dark dunes into new configurations.” -Linda Hogan
“There was always in the margins of the cornfield just beyond our yard, in the brushy scraps of abandoned pasture, right-of-ways along the railroad tracks, along the river itself, and in the corners and unseeded lots of the town, a lowly assertion of grass. It was big grass. Original prairie grass-bluestem and Indian grass, side oats grama. The green fringe gave me the comforting assurance that all else planted and tended and set down by humans was somehow temporary. Only grass is eternal. Grass is always waiting in the wings.” -Louise Erdrich
“The 1964 National Wilderness Act includes ‘outstanding opportunities for solitude’ as part of a definition of what wilderness is. Socially, we believe that the point of wilderness is to get away from people. Spiritually, we want to meet Nature stripped of our accoutrements and modern “superficial” selves. We want to be that vulnerable.” -Sharman Apt Russell
“I believe the fear I experience in the outdoors is shared by many African American women and that it limits the way we move through the world and colors the decisions we make about our lives. My genetic memory of ancestors hunted down and preyed upon in rural settings counter[ed] my fervent hopes of finding peace in the wilderness. Determined to reconnect myself to the comfort my African ancestors felt in the rift valleys of Kenya and on the shores of Sierra Leone, I eventually decided to go on a rafting trip. Charging over the river, orange life vest firmly secured, my breathing relaxed and I allowed myself to drink in the stately rocks, soaring birds, towering trees, and affirming anglers who waved their rods as we rushed by in our raft. About an hour into the trip, in a magnificently still moment, I looked up into the heavens and heard the voice of black poet Langston Hughes: ‘I’ve known rivers of the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins. I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young. I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep. I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it. My soul has grown deep like rivers.’ …comforted by our tribal ancestors-herders, gatherers, and fishers all-I am less fearful, ready to come home.” -Evelyn White
“Something happens to you in an old growth forest. At first you are curious to see the tremendous girth and height of the trees and you sally forth, eager. You start to saunter, then amble, slower and slower, first like a fox and then an armadillo and then a tortoise, until you are trudging at the pace of an earthworm, and then even slower, the pace of a sassafras leaf’s turning. The blood begins to languish in your veins, until you think it has turned to sap. You hanker to touch the trees and embrace them and lean your face against their bark, and you do. You smell them. There’s this strange current of energy running skyward, like a thousand tiny bells tied to your capillaries, ringing with your heartbeat. You sit and lean against one trunk…The trunk is your spine, the nerve centers reaching into other worlds, below ground and above. You stand and press your body into the ancestral and enduring, arms wide, and your fingers do not touch. You wonder how big the unseen gap. I drink old-growth forest like water. Here I walk shoulder to shoulder with history, my history. I am in the presence of something ancient and venerable, perhaps of time itself, its unhurried passing marked by immensity and stolidity, each year purged by fire, cinched by a ring. Here mortality’s roving hands grapple with air. I can see my place as human in a natural order more grand, whole, and functional that I’ve ever witnessed, and I am humbled, not frightened by it. Comforted. It is as if a round table springs up in the cathedral of pines and God graciously pulls out a chair for me, and I no longer have to worry about what happens to souls.” -Janisse Ray