“Wading into the shallows, I break the surface of Shoshone with my ankles, my hips, my breasts. The water is icy but familiar, welcomed; I grew up swimming in Lake Superior. I walk in the water with long, slow sweeps of my arms and legs. I don’t swim. I keep my toes on the stones and my head toward the sky. When I stand motionless, the lake’s surface appears still, but I am embraced by subtle swells, pulsing.” excerpt from Shoshone
The following is a guest post by Lauren Koshere, author of Shoshone, 2013 Spring nonfiction honorable mention piece.
Nature writing: What is it? Whose is it?
As a graduate of the environmental writing track in the University of Montana’s environmental studies M.S. program, I am often asked how I define “environmental writing.” The genre is broad—and expanding. It can include natural history, calls to political and social action, science writing, and urban nature writing, to name a few possible directions. But while environmental writing takes many forms and is evolving in the 21st century, common associations conjure ideas of early nature writing—a body loaded with masculine experiences of nature.
We remember famous images from the canon of American nature writing texts: Henry David Thoreau planting beans, Spartan-like, near Walden Pond; John Muir riding out a Sierra Nevada windstorm from the top of a Douglas Spruce; Edward Abbey sliding down waterfalls in Havasu Canyon. In these early and classic examples of wilderness experienced solitaire, the individual’s sojourn in nature is often marked by extreme conditions, danger, and rugged self-reliance. And the individual is often a man.
The main character of “Shoshone,” and Falling in Yellowstone, the book of which it is a chapter, by contrast, is not a man with nothing between him and the harshness of the Sierra Nevada but his boots and some bread. In this collection, I am the main character—a young woman working in Yellowstone for the summer, doing what young people do: exploring, falling in love, messing up, growing. My writing is rooted in the wild nature of Yellowstone, but my essay about the journey of a backpacking trip around Shoshone Lake probes my social, not solitaire, experiences in the Park. Exploring the social nature in relationship to the wild nature of my seasons there, I share how my relationships with others influenced, and were influenced by, my relationship to place—in this case, the stunning landscape of America’s first national park.
Terry Tempest Williams has offered that our relationship to the land is our relationship to each other. This focus on connection, I believe, is a powerful way to imagine a fresh, perhaps more feminine, experience of nature. And as “Shoshone” explores, no natural element reminds us of our connection to earth and to other women more deeply than water and all its processes—drainage, flow, convergence.
Contribute your definitions of and experiences with “environmental writing” in the comment box below!
To learn more about Lauren Koshere, visit her at floword.wordpress.com