Digging For the Story in Urban Nature

My morning work space, the back deck

My weekend retreat brought a burst of creativity. It has been many months since I did so much pen-and-paper writing in the space of a few days. Since returning home, I have tried to recreate the sparking sense of connection with nature. The city has its challenges.

I am in the midst of launching a full-time career as a freelance journalist. As a writer or artist it is important to understand one’s own unique circadian rhythm. We all have times of day when we are more or less alert, creative or energetic. One advantage of working for yourself is you can choose your best personal time to communicate with others, concentrate, be productive, be reflective, take a break, eat or exercise. I already know a lot about my internal clock, but now that my routine is becoming more intensely focused I am learning more.

Inspiration From Nature

At the cottage last weekend I would start my days on the dock eating breakfast, reading magazines as potential markets, and writing in my journal. I have always liked to write in the morning, but these were the most inspired and productive sessions I have had in a long time. My increased focus and motivation seemed to synergize with the rich environment. Inspiration surrounded me.

Depauperate World

I was certain I could recreate the experience back home. I love our backyard. We have a steady stream of birds coming to the feeder. The deck overlooks my vegetable garden and the pine plantation behind. It might not be as wild as cottage country, but there is still much to stimulate the mind and senses.

Unfortunately, it has not worked as well. After a week of starting my days at the table on the back deck, I already enjoy the new ritual. However, I struggled as usual to fill three pages with cogent thought.

False Idyll

The current issue of Orion Magazine offers this essay: “False Idyll: Seeing only nurture in nature is missing half the point.” You can also read it online or hear it narrated by author J.B. MacKinnon. I relate pretty well to his ideas about the divine:

It hasn’t been my experience that full-force nature directs the mind toward thoughts of positive vibrations or divine master plans. Nature itself is enough, its stories written in blood and shit and electrons and birdsong, and in this we may ultimately find all the sacredness we seem to need.

He also suggests the vast majority of Earth’s citizens live cut off from that deeper meaning, because the environment is so widely broken, sterilized. What we experience as nature lacks natural brutality. I believe we prefer to ignore the suffering of genuine, “full-force nature.” Our avoidance is unhealthy. Mortality catches up with everyone, and every civilization falls.

Little Steps

So while sitting in my gently blowsy backyard neighboured by manicured suburban lawns I recall the rich, quiet forest around my northward lake. It has no predators to speak of. Once in a while a black bear comes around, causes a little trouble with people’s garbage sheds and ends up getting relocated by the ministry. One time years ago I heard a wolf howl very far away in less-inhabited woods toward Algonquin Provincial Park. My place of retreat is deep, still and ecologically diverse but resoundingly safe. It tells richer stories than anything I can hear here, but it still does not go far enough.

So here I sit, another step back in the city. I keep listening, my pen moving across the page. This is where we all are, so I must not stop digging.


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