The Difficulties of Writing About Nature….

If you blink, you miss it. Spring thaw hits my area hard on March 30, as if Mother Nature is just as tired of snow as we are and wants it all gone now. It’s a perfect day: sunny, 35 degrees. My wife and I are driving to Northfield, a familiar trip, but the landscape has gone crazy. Impromptu rivers have formed everywhere. I can barely keep the car on the road as I eagerly trace multiple waterways on both sides of the blacktop at 60 mph.
So. That’s all there is. I have progressed no further in my attempt to write about this encounter with nature, or more specifically, about the awesome power of water. I’m reluctant to write more because I know all too well the traps writers can fall into when describing their nature ‘encounters,’ since I’ve had to claw my way up out of all those traps. Witness my use of the word “awesome.” How trite is that? Is my best tool for describing the power of water really to be a worn-out word from the 80s? (Or was it the 90s? Help me out here.)

If I am to write more about those impromptu rivers, how do I describe the energy of water rushing and churning where it doesn’t belong? I don’t have a good answer for that. One of the problems I face when writing about nature is that not only do I want to convey the beauty of what I saw, but how it made me feel. It’s perfectly normal to believe that I’m the first to drive west on Country Road 9 on Spring Thaw Day and be utterly beguiled by the water’s journey, so therefore I must share it with everyone. But here’s the thing: I’m not the first nor the only one to have experienced this. No one wants to read yet another “Oh my god, water is so freaking awesome” essay.

I doubt that adding ‘freaking’ helps explain how, on Spring Thaw Day, the water flows in wide sheets down two sloping fields and merges so that now it’s a rivulet burbling toward the culvert under the road. It shoots out the other side, joins another rivulet so now it’s a stream racing down the ditch and then around someone’s back yard and into a ravine, where it smashes into another stream to become a furious river that foams back through another culvert, passing underneath us to the other side where it finds a flat field and spreads out with relief in a shallow sheet, exhausted from its mad rush to become a lake.

As a farmer and rural resident, I’m immersed in nature. But I struggle to find effective ways to write about it without going all misty-eyed and saccharine. That’s why I’m not quite ready to write about my Spring Thaw Day. Today, three days after our drive to Northfield, it’s a different landscape. Nothing but soggy fields and damp ditches. The water is gone, absorbed by the soil or evaporated into the air or moved on to lower elevations to beguile other lives

I won’t write about this day until I can find a way to share what a gift it was to witness a perfectly normal event that only lasts a few hours. 

Perhaps the gift isn’t the water itself, but that Mother Nature has—through numerous rude and insistent invasions into my life—taught me to open my eyes and really see, to capture what others miss when they blink.

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