Nature Writing with Write On and Gathering Ground

By Nora Boxer, UWM graduate student in creative writing

This January, I was given the opportunity to participate as a student in Write On, Door County’s
The Craft of Writing Series via a scholarship made possible through Gathering Ground. The
focus of the three-week series was Nature, and it was led by writers Camille Dungy and Scott
Russell Sanders. In the first session, Scott and Camille dialogued with one another about how
they see the role of the “nature writer” evolving in the 21 st century, when we are in a time of
ecological crisis and can no longer operate under the historic “pathetic fallacy” of pristine
nature—we can no longer view our human actions as separate from the forces co-arising on the
Earth. Helpful was Scott’s framing that he considers himself an “Earth writer” and not a “nature writer,” and Camille’s emphasis that all writing connects in to the fact that we are “partners and stewards of this planet.”

Together, the two touched on valuable concepts such as language as a form of “storage,” the
patterning we observe in nature as related to the patterning in our writing, and writing as a
form of antidote to modern cultural amnesia regarding ecological wholeness. Week Two was
led by Scott, where he shared a reading list of American Earth Writers from the past four
centuries (!) as well as a series of prompts, “Imagining Nature: Invitations for Writing,” which
were designed to “deepen understanding, enlarge vision, enhance awareness.” Week Three
was a generative session led by Camille. We wrote several short brainstorms in response to
images and prompts she offered to get us thinking about perception; about what we do and
don’t include in our “frame of vision,” and about how shifting that scope is part of the work of
environmental writing in this age of Anthropocene.

I appreciated this investigation into writing as “an ethic of sustainability, correction, and care,”
as Camille said, and I also appreciated being able to enter a brief worldwide community of folks
working on the same lines of inquiry. We even had someone attending the class from Australia!
As Camille noted, one of the bright sides of 2020/2021 is being able to connect with others in
learning communities regardless of physical location. While I’m sure it would have been
nurturing and restful to be in Door County, our workshop mode was in is itself more eco-
friendly than one requiring big travel.

I am a creative writing PhD student at UW-Milwaukee and relatively new to Wisconsin. I’m
grateful to have made the connection to both Write On, Door County and Gathering Ground,
and hope that at some point, I might be able to visit in person. I’d like to thank Camille; Scott; and Write On, Door County; as well as Alessandra Rolffs of Gathering Ground and my professor Kimberly Blaeser, both of whom connected me to this course as well as attended it alongside me!

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