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Some examples of writing on nature and culture

Chris Baraniuk
Chris Baraniuk
4 min read
Some examples of writing on nature and culture
Photo by Ryutaro Tsukata from Pexels.

As I got ready to launch this newsletter I found all kinds of wonderful writing about human culture and the natural world.

There are thousands of articles in this vein and I feel like the theme is gaining traction at the moment – probably due in no small part to the rise of rewilding. So I wanted to share a few examples with you to illustrate what this newsletter will be about, and the kind of links I hope to share with readers in the future.

First of all, here’s something to transport you. Check out this beautiful piece from Langscape Magazine, about an artist who grew up on the Yamal Peninsula, in Siberia. It was published in 2019 and is incredibly evocative. It reveals how a cultural connection with nature can strongly shape one's sense of self.

“My first language was the language of reindeer and of Arctic birds […] We imitated the voices of animals and birds. We knew how to talk to them.”

The artist in question, Khadry Okotetto, goes on to describe his latest work, which features a nest made out of broken mirror pieces. It is intended to represent how people are born into “a cage of stereotypes”, he explains.

Nature and Covid-19

There are too many articles about nature and the pandemic to list here but one that’s worth sharing just because of the data is this BBC News report from April. It describes the results of surveys of people in the UK that reveal how nature became a newly significant source of solace and well-being during lockdowns.

For instance, a third of respondents said they have been visiting nature or green spaces more often since the emergence of Covid-19.

Much has been written about this trend (including by me) but it all leaves me wondering how sustainable that heightened awareness of nature will be and what can be done to fashion it into something that protects the environment, going forward.

The author stands on a hillside in Northern Ireland, with farms visible in the distance.
Yours truly pictured while finding solace in nature during the pandemic. Credit: Chris Baraniuk.

At the very least, many people can now say that, in a time of genuine hardship, they realised the natural world was there for them. I think that’s hopeful stuff.

Something else worth thinking about is the role that history and memory play in how we engage with nature. Old practices are sometimes worth returning to, suggests this piece from the excellent Inkcap Journal, published in April.

The article describes a farm in Dartmoor where horses, not tractors, pull the ploughs. The writer, Ginger Rose Clark, points out that these beasts of burden consume no fossil fuels. Instead, they produce manure, which is useful for growing crops. It might not work on every farm – but it could suit some nature-conscious farmers who also want to feel closer to their heritage.

Speaking of land use, I must mention this fascinating report from New Scientist, also from April. It’s about new research into the history of human influences on the environment. The study authors estimated that untouched land was almost as uncommon 12,000 years ago as it is today.

That suggests that the recent decline of many species and habitats is not so much thanks to human activity in general but rather a particular form of it: modern, intense exploitation of land that leaves little room for nature to thrive.

“You can have traditional land use and still have biodiversity,” author Erle Ellis from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, told the magazine.

Losing ourselves

Now here’s an article from 2008 that is also worth a read. It’s from the magazine Resurgence and it discusses the link between nature and culture. The author, Jules Petty of the University of Essex, argues that as human society neglects or turns away from nature, it runs the risk of cultural decay, too.

This is central to one of the things that motivated me to launch The Nature Gatherer in the first place: the idea that whenever we lose something in nature – a species, a habitat, an old belief or practice – we stand to lose part of ourselves, too. Part of our culture.

As mountainous and polar regions get warmer, snow fields and glaciers are melting. Credit: Photo by S Migaj from Pexels.

Finally, a recent piece that picks up this notion and runs with it is this from The Guardian, published in April. Gaia Vince describes the cultural significance of glaciers – how they are layered in meaning, history and myth.

Not only that, glaciers are cornerstones of entire ecosystems and, being so massive, inspire awe in those who are lucky enough to walk across them on an icy trek.

But they are melting away. And when we lose them, we lose all that goes with them.

This is just a handful of the articles that have caught my eye lately but I will keep hunting for more because this whole discussion just fascinates me. If you’ve written or published something in a similar vein, feel free to get in touch and tell me about it. I’d love to read it!

Links and references

Chris Baraniuk

I'm a freelance science journalist and nature-lover who wants to find new, hopeful ways to bring people and nature together.