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Anyone who visits New Mexico is bound to marvel at nature’s grandeur. The rugged desert landscape, the magnificent Sangre de Cristo mountains (southern Rockies), the Rio de Grande winding its way past flat mesas and steep rocks, brilliant blue skies, stunning sunsets, snow-capped peaks, powdery white ski slopes – nature lays out a movable feast here. Every time I take a walk on the winding streets of Taos, a small town in northern New Mexico, nature’s splendour is on display and it takes my breath away. The mountains watch over the town like majestic sentinels. Sunshine filters in through the tall cottonwoods and turns the landscape into a perfect impressionistic painting at certain times of the day. Sunrise and sunset are magic hours. The sky is a riot of colours. The moon bathes the mesa in milky light.
As a writer, I feel lucky to be spending time here so I can admire nature in all its glory. The natural environment is intrinsically connected to creativity. Writers, artists, photographers, and musicians will all swear to this. Individual preferences among artists may vary. Some writers prefer a walk on the beach to an uphill hike; others may find inspiration while roughing it out in the desert under the sun. A sunrise or a smoldering sunset can trigger an avalanche of ideas. Nature’s rhythms ignite the writer’s imagination in many wondrous ways.
Meadows and softly flowing streams, fields, and flowers, rivers in spate, rainfall, snowfall, starry skies, moonlit nights – poets and prose writers are both susceptible to their charms. Whether you are a romantic poet who pens odes to nightingales and larks, or a post-modern writer of gritty, dystopian fiction, the natural environment exerts a magnetic pull on you. The natural world shapes your work no matter what kind/genre of writing you do. In this sense, all writers are nature writers. The connection between humans and nature and the interaction (or its lack) between humans and nature is a fascinating subject. Most writers devote a lot of time and energy in observing this dynamic and paint interesting portraits of it in prose and verse.
How exactly does proximity to nature hone the creative spirit? In his journal, Walden, the famous 19th-century transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau advises readers to be always alert to the natural world and to remember to “look at what is to be seen” in nature. Very few of us may be able to get away from our day jobs and the demands of daily life for two years to go live in the woods like Thoreau did. But we can easily follow Thoreau’s advice about observing nature with the attention it deserves. Being alert to nature’s wonders gives us the opportunity to sharpen our observation skills. Nature is a great teacher. It has the power to help us shed the habit of looking at things with unseeing eyes or giving them a careless glance and rushing ahead to get on with our lives.
Thoreau famously wrote, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” He built a cabin in the woods and lived a spartan life there in order to gain a better understanding of himself (and the world around him) through introspection. Introspection is an essential part of every writer’s toolkit. Spend an hour marveling at a sunset or watching a blizzard transform a landscape into an ice sculpture. Sit under a tree’s green canopy and watch the sun come up over a mountain range. Listen to the wind brush past the trees. The moments you devote to immersing yourself in nature may turn out to be the best writing prompts you have ever received.
In order to write well, in order to create stories or poetry or music or art, the artist must make an effort to live consciously. Finding the time to get away from manic urban spaces to renew our bond with nature and gratefully imbibe all the lessons it has to offer is an essential part of the creative process. Whether we spend two days or two weeks in a year doing this, whether we take refuge in a wooded cabin located miles away from civilisation or take a walk at a crowded beach, we stand to gain so much from reaching out to the natural world.