To men like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Edward Everett, being overcome with the visceral beauty of nature was as good as popping a Quaalude and scoping out bikini models on Venice Beach. In the 1830s, men who were sick of the tedium of the organized religion that so inhibited intellectual expression and creative freedom formed the transcendentalist movement. While it was not quite as widespread or revolutionary as the counterculture movement of the 1960s, it may well have been its ancestor: born out of Enlightenment ideals, transcendentalism valued the individual and his relationship with nature. However lofty the movement’s focus may seem, the transcendentalists focused chiefly on deriving knowledge and art from one’s inner self.
Walt Whitman, whom one may call the first true hippie, was a poet born of these ideas, and wrote a great many poems about nature. He wrote all of them with three essential things: dirt under his butt, pencil in his hand, and journal on his knees (clothes, however, were not essential; in fact, writing poetry in the woods naked would be quite a transcendental move, although possibly too progressive for the scholars of the 19th century). A great many decades after Whitman’s time, Jack Kerouac, a Beat writer popular in the 50s and 60s, came out with his book On the Road, which was written entirely on a scroll.
Kerouac, like Whitman, wrote a great deal about nature and all its beauties (read The Dharma Bums if you’re interested). Though Kerouac, unlike Whitman, worked on a typewriter, he still held more in common with writers like Whitman than he does the writers of today. While yes, Kerouac used a keyboard very similar to the one I’m typing on as I write this article, he did not have the phosphorescent glow of a screen drawing his eyes away from the green of the forest or the babbling creek flowing high on the Matterhorn.
To write about nature one must first be immersed in nature. One must feel the Lyme-bearing ticks crawling onto their skin as they write, one must hear the trickle of the stream as it plays its timeless tune over rocks and sediment, one must use a keen eye to notice the fly-entrapping web as it, for only a second, is illuminated by the sun and then hidden again. And it is nearly impossible to immerse oneself in nature when there is a computer screen acting as a barrier.
To truly write a description of the natural world around you, it must be the only thing around you. These days, so many of us feel so compelled to do all our writing on our computers. If a description of a deer prancing through a forest clearing is written 24 hours after it is witnessed, then it becomes less visceral and loses the characteristics so coveted by the old transcendentalists: a crude, uncut connection with nature and a release of one’s inner spirit. Any work done later on a computer is too thoughtful and too inorganic.
To truly write an account of nature, one must transcend, leaving the computer at home and bringing along a pencil, some paper, and a willingness to release one’s inner spirit and let one’s soul intertwine wholesomely with the vines and branches of the trees.