Thursday, July 12, 2012

If these weeds could talk...

I warn my Nature Writing students about the dangers of anthropomorphizing nature. Projecting human characteristics onto nonhuman nature, I tell them, can distort our perception and undermine our credibility as writers. 

Nevertheless, when I saw these tiny weedy things sticking out of the water at Burr Oak Lake, they looked to me like two elegant ladies sharing scandalous secrets about the tall gentleman on the right. Thousands of these guys project above the water in the weedy parts of the lake, and a true nature-lover would find out what they're called and what they're doing; instead, I'm inventing silly conversations between creatures that are presumably not sentient.

I'm on firmer ground interpreting the intentions of the hawk peering down from a tree, especially since it swooped down to snatch up some prey immediately after this shot. Similarly, when the great blue heron curls its neck into an S and glares intently into the water, it's clearly preparing to use that neck as a spring to push the precision beak forward to snatch up a fish. I'm sure the fox prowling around the edge of the woods knows what it wants--and it's probably not silly conversation.

But when I see a log floating on the water and say, "I wonder what that alligator wants," I know I've gone too far. There are no alligators in Burr Oak Lake, and even if there were, alligators are notably inscrutable. What could they want to say to me besides "get out of my way"?

That's the challenge for the nature writer: getting out of the way and letting the birds be birds, the foxes be foxes, and the weeds be not elegant ladies gossiping at a dance but, simply and sufficiently, what they are: weeds.




jo(e) said...

I used to spend hours looking down from my Dad's sailboat at the weeds in the bay and imagining the water fairies that lived in that cool green forest.

Jacqueline M. said...

Beautiful shots as always, Dr. Hogue.