I like to think of nature writing as an observational science because of its utilitarian and pivotal roles in adding reliable knowledge that can be logically and rationally explained. It also touches on many disciplines including ecology, ethology, biology, botany, zoology etc. It is also an activity of a living being (that’s man), consisting of receiving knowledge of the outside world using our senses, or the recording of data using scientific instruments. This is the observational aspect of the craft. The term may also refer to any data collected during this activity. An observation can also be the way you look at things or when you look at something.
So nature writing is in essence non-fiction prose about the natural environment based on these observations and experiences – or should I say your observations and experiences because you are the writer. Writing in this genre has a symbiotic relationship with science and these facts about the natural world will help shape your personal observations and philosophical reflections about nature. It is largely written in first person as after all it’s primarily your version on a subject that may be familiar or unfamiliar to your target audience.
Modern nature writing has firm roots natural history. Works were popular during the mid 18th century and throughout the 19th, including works by Gilbert White (The Natural History of Selborne), William Bartram (Travels), John James Audubon (The Birds of North America), Charles Darwin (The Origin of Species), Alfred Russel Wallace (The Malay Archipelago), Henry Walter Bates (The naturalist on the river Amazons), Richard Jefferies (The Story of My Heart), and other explorers, collectors, and naturalists. Henry David Thoreau (Life in the Woods), is often considered the father of modern American nature writing. Canonical figures also include Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Burroughs, John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, M. Krishnan, and Edward Abbey (although he rejected the term for himself).
My life and work within natural history has sometimes been mixed. I love every aspect of it including the science, but when it comes to collecting species for taxonomic and identification purposes I’m usually left with a sour taste for days on end. Let’s make one thing clear, species collecting and identification is needed for ecological and diverse pretext. It plays a vital role in understanding our natural environment which benefits man as well as the environment. The more we know, the more we can help. But the observational science within the branch of natural history is gradually increasing in popularity, largley due to the current economic crisis and advancement in visual equipment and TV documentaries which can now boast High Definition imagery to be enjoyed by both scientists, amateur naturalists, and the lay person. Even purchasing HD SLR and video cameras are now affordable.