Things I Borrow from Nature
By Jeff Salter
Two of the suggested topics for this week are (1) where ideas ‘spout’ from and (2) what to do on a rainy day. What both have in common is SPRING — season of planting, time of buds and blossoms … the cycle of birth.
I think most writers get at least some of their ideas from Nature. And nature is really on parade during Springtime. Up here in Possum Trot – in Southeast Kentucky – the dogwoods are presently in full bloom. Some busy birds chirp all morning and the whippoorwills might call all night. In the nearby city are gorgeous pear trees and other colorful blossoms I don’t even know the names of.
Many writers – myself included – watch people … which is great for building characters. But watching nature gives us wonderfully vivid descriptive context for setting — another important component of every good story.
In one of my early novel manuscripts, the embracing couple stands on the porch and watches as heavy rain moves toward them like a creeping barrage. I actually saw that [and decided to mix a natural image with a military metaphor]. In another story, one of my characters gets caught in a vicious tangle of briars — yep, I’ve been there. A family tour of a local cave inspired a long scene in my second novel manuscript.
So I borrow a lot of imagery from nature.
But some of my most direct ‘nature’ imagery shows up in poetry. And much of this focuses on storms. [A few examples are my poems: ‘After the Storm’, ‘Arctic Night’, ‘Epicenter’, ‘Outdoorsman’, ‘Snow in Slow Motion’, and ‘Tempest’.
In the poem below, ‘rain’ became my extended metaphor.
In This Pour
Jeffrey L. Salter
This series of storms
Some torrents are cold
I want to tighten the latches.
But many are warm
and I turn up my face
to gather all the droplets.
fleeting squalls —
must always be prepared.
At times I’m so tired of weathering
this seasonal tempest,
that I almost wish
it would pass.
Yet I hunger
to learn what is next,
yearn to know what else.
An irrepressible, clinical curiosity:
where they come from
… and why.
Thunder, lightning …
raining from whatever —
I feel at times I’m drowning
in this pour.
And sometimes I long
Reading this poem, do you readily discern what I’m writing about [at least on the surface level]?
What are YOUR favorite images from Springtime? Do you use ‘nature’ images in your writing?
Be sure to visit next week for my monthly guest blogger. The Guest Fox for April is Leigh Verrill-Rhys. Thursday the 28th — be there!
Good morning, Jeff. The sun is pouring itself through my window onto the laptop screen. I think I get what you’re writing about in In This Pour. Your use of metaphor is potent. I use Nature and the natural world in my writing with only rare exceptions. In my novel, Wait a Lonely Lifetime, the sun is a constant metaphor for hope in my heroine’s life. The hero has war imagery superimposed over harvest bounty. My poetry professor claimed that writers should not major in Literature, but all the Natural Sciences. I’ve remembered and used that advice in all my work. Many of my love scenes take place in the open air and, because Astronomy is my science of choice, one of my favorites, as yet unpublished, includes the Milky Way. Thank you for sharing your poetry, Jeff. A good start to my day, sunny and warm.
Love your professor’s advice, Leigh, but if I’d had to major in natural sciences, I may well have flunked out of college. For some reason, science has always been my worst subject … at least as presented in H.S. & college.
Our ancestors, all the way through pre-history found inspiration in the stars … and I love them also. Here in Possum Trot, we can see stars which simply were not visible from our tightly-packed neighborhood in N.W. Louisiana.
Thanks for stopping by. You can see I included an advertisement for your post next Thursday as guest fox.
Thank you for your post, Jeff. Yes, I can tell what your poem is about on the surface: being out in a storm and fully experiencing it, for good or ill. But—just my interpretation—I get the feeling that on a deeper level, this poem is about going through the storms of life. And though they can be miserable, the observant and sensitive person can gain much value from the experience.
Do I use nature imagery in my works? Some, but I’m trying to use more. Or more precisely, I want to be more specific. Instead of saying “He hid behind a bush”, I want to say just which type of bush. And what is it about this species of plant that makes it a good place to hide behind.
In my current WIP, nature descriptions are a real challenge. The story is set in medieval Wales. I’ve never even been to modern Wales. And much of the action takes place outdoors, among people who live closer to the elements than most modern people.
All this impacts the mindset of my characters. How did people with a far lower level of technology than we’re used to relate to their natural surroundings? Including the way it could suddenly change, often with dreadful consequences for the individuals and societies that depend so heavily and directly on nature.
Yes, I have my work cut out for me. Good thing I know a bit about research. There’s a lot I don’t know, but there’s nothing I can’t google!
Yes, Mary Anne, the literal level of this poem also works. And one of the other levels truly did deal with the ‘storms of life’. But it took me two readings of a five year old poem to remember what the primary meaning was for me as I wrote it. It’s about the surge of creativity I had that summer — completely out of the blue, hitting me very much like a ‘storm’ and having its way with me. It resulted in some 190 poems in just about five months’ time … and left me literally exhausted.
My wife sometimes helps me out with the descriptive details of something. I once asked her what kind of flowers would a particular character (of mine) have in front of her cabin. With no hesitation, Denise said, ‘peonies’. So that’s what my character had. Many other examples: she’s a gold mine of descriptive details.
Hey, you should contact Leigh, who posted above you … she LIVES in Wales.
Hey Jeff! Hope the vacay was enjoyable, and glad to have you back.
Still pitch dark where I am at the moment, but the grass is chilly with night dew, the moon and stars are fantastic in the sky, and the distinctive cloying scent of Native Privet is so thick in the air you can taste it when you breathe. (I enjoyed the poem you shared. I caught a possible hint of weathering, and anticipating, newly discoverd life experiences.)
Since I write Werewolves and ghost stories, the natural element runs throughout. Seems there are quite a few nature descriptors when you blend animal characteristics with human, and of course a lot of the setting is outdoors. Survival in nature depends on the ability to use all the senses; sight, scent, touch, hearing, even taste. Incorporating them can become quite sensual without that being your original intention. LOL
There are a couple poems posted on my website. I hate it, but with a conference coming up they’ll probably have to come down soon to make room for registration and workshop info. So much information, so few pages.
I’ll go look for your poems before they come down, Runere.
I remember a long row of Privett hedges in our house in Covington LA. Don’t recall any particular smell, however. But our two lots, surrounded by woods (mostly) had lots of ‘nature’ — and all of it was good (except for poison ivy and fire ants).
Yes, ‘weathering life experiences’ is truly a major thematic level of that poem, but it was ‘inspired’ more by the torrent of poems which came crashing in on me during a summer five years ago.
Thanks for posting!
Hi, Jeff! I use a lot of images when I write. I will print out or rip out pictures from a magazine that remind me of my story, characters, setting etc…. It allows me to incorporate all of my senses. It’s really helped me involve my readers in my story.
Incorporating all the senses is something I try to encourage in younger writers when they want to show me their work. Often I can get them on track by simply asking a few questions, like: “what time of day is it? how does the space look at that point? how does it make the character feel?” etc. Not being critical, but just pricking their own creative imaginations to more fully involve the reader.
Thanks for visiting, Tonya.
Good morning, Jeff.
It’s still dark here in SE Texas, but the sky is quickly fading from the deep shades of blue in favor of the light. The birds are ushering in the morning with their sweet songs. The world is just waking here.
I sometimes pay more attention to the nature surrounding me than the people. I especially love forests and beaches. Both are mysterious in what jewels they hide.
Love the poem, Jeff.
Jenn, your entire post was a poem! Very lyrical descriptions.
Thanks for stopping by.
BTW, I did finally see your Wed. Muse-dude, but it was after midnight. Does that still count?
Of course! You know how I enjoy your comments. 🙂
First, the poem is wonderful- very nicely done!
As to imagery from nature, yes. I try to use that as well. It is awe inspiring here where I live. The beach is gorgeous, the plant life in the countryside is beautiful and we can very often see the rain coming toward us in sheets. Sometimes, it’s pouring across the bay and dry on the other side and you can watch the rain come over the bay. It’s quite enthralling. Enjoyed today’s post.
I’m glad someone else has seen the rain actually moving toward them. When I first saw it, I actually did a double-take: “is that truly a storm creeping directly at us?”
What threw me was that usually I see storms overhead. This was far in the horizon but quickly advanced … very awesome.
Great post, Jeff. I use nature, but not as much as some authors do. However, being in nature (whether it’s in the wetlands fishing with my brother-in-law, or driving through the swamps) gives me so many ideas. I love my home, love the cypress forests, and the swaying of the marsh grass on a light breeze. I love watching the sun rise over the water, or watching the sun set over a sea of sugarcane. There’s so much beauty in nature*sigh*
As for my favorite images of Springtime, it would be the gentle unfurling of green leaves and the tiny buds of flowers as they bloom. As much as I adore winter, I revel in the greenness of life sprouting before my very eyes.
Being a former neighbor, I also love the cypress stands. And the Spanish Moss of LA is something else that makes me feel good.
I’m very fortunate NOT to have ‘spring’ allergies … because I know so many people who are miserable during this season. Not me — I love spring!
Thanks for posting, Danica.
Hey Jeff. I certainly do use nature images in my writing. Especially with me writing about 10th Ireland, it’s a must to put my reader in that moment in time, amid the green meadows or he trocky crags, and do it well. Else the reader cannot connect with your story or cannot find themselves in the characters’ shoes. They will be unable to see and feel what is around them, and thus, making for a very boring read.
Great post Jeff! I loved how you said this: In one of my early novel manuscripts, the embracing couple stands on the porch and watches as heavy rain moves toward them like a creeping barrage. I actually saw that [and decided to mix a natural image with a military metaphor]. In another story, one of my characters gets caught in a vicious tangle of briars — yep, I’ve been there. A family tour of a local cave inspired a long scene in my second novel manuscript.
So I borrow a lot of imagery from nature.
My favorite things from spring are thunderstorms, newly blooming flowers, and the greening-up of the grass beneath a long-awaited vivid blue sky.
Yes, thunderstorms are wonderful images, because they can be everything from destructive to comforting. Or even mysterious! I guess that’s why the rain metaphor captured my fancy in this poem — also a spectacular range (from precip. so soft it’s barely a mist … to a torrent that could tear off your skin).
Really liked your post, but the poem was wonderful, so beautiful and sensitive. One of the things that I have really liked about getting to know you on Facebook and with your writings is that you make me look at things with different eyes. I love your sensitivity and your gentleness, your love of your family, your animals AND nature, and your reaching out to help others through difficult times. You are a good friend to many people.
Thanks, Sug, for the lovely compliments. You’ve truly made my day!
Glad you could visit our group blog today … hope you can come back every Thursday.
Yes, Jeff, I believe I understand your poem. Anyone who has weathered (or is weathering) a stormy time in their life can relate to the fatigue it can cause. Giving in seems easiest at times, but then — and I LOVE your phrase — an “irrepressible clinical curiosity” brings back reality. That, along with HOPE for the calmer skies and the promise that “April showers bring May flowers,” keeps me going. Your poem also makes me think of people who have undergone chemotherapy or other clinical treatments where the will to survive gets completely tangled in battling the horrendous side effects and depression.
My favorite images of Spring? Tulips. All colors. They remind me of my mother and her garden and how excited she would be that the tulips were up because it was now time to start digging and planting her vegetables again! Her passion and enthusiasm was contagious. Even though I’m not a gardener (don’t have room for one right now) I can’t see a tulip without smiling and hoping that someday I will be. Before my mother died, after a courageous five year battle with ovarian cancer, she insisted on staying in the living room looking out over her front yard, the driveway and the busy street. The tulips in her front flower bed had bloomed. I believe they encouraged her … it was time for something exciting to happen!
When I worked for a florist I learned that tulips are hard to arrange because they keep growing even though they’ve been cut. They fight. They twist and turn and can change the look of an arrangement from the time it’s made to the time it’s delivered. A good designer has to allow for that. I suspect there may be similar elements to developing characters, plot, and … dealing with publishers! I’m not a writer, Jeff, so I can’t say I use nature in my writing. However, I do find inspiration in reading about it and have based my opinion on an author by the way they describe a scene or set a mood using natural models.
Thanks for your insights, Lisa.
I’m particularly impressed by those facts about tulips ‘continuing’ to struggle/grow after being cut away from their support. Wow … what a powerful image!
My poem seemed (to me) to be ‘about’ the creative process and the ‘storm’ of poetry which swept over me during that particular season. But I’m heartened and humbled to see it has other meanings for other readers. Thanks for sharing how it struck you.
Good evening, Jeff. Thanks for the plug. I did notice, but I didn’t think it was polite to say anything! We’ve had a rare gorgeous day – I had to wait for a bus and was delighted to stand facing the sun instead of sheltering from the wind or the rain – we get a lot of both in Wales.
Mary Anne, anytime you want to know anything about Wales, just let me know or visit my Welsh Medieval Romance blog: http://lilydewaruile.wordpress.com. If you’re a member of Hearts Through History, check with their blog: seducedbyhistory.blogspot.com for more Welsh information or even celticqueens.blogspot.com. All good sources. I’ll be blogging at Seduced by History on the 29th with tidbits about customs and food.
You are very gracious, Leigh, to offer help to a fellow writer about Wales.
I love the sun in my face … provided the temperature is pleasant. [Not so great on a day around 100 degrees, however. LOL]
I’m eager to see your material for Thursday’s column — I know it’ll be great.
Diolch yn fawr iawn, Leigh! Hoffech chi fod yn fy Facebook ffrind?
Thank you very much, Leigh! Would you like to friend me on Facebook?
I’ll check out the blogs and websites you listed. Not to mention your fiction! Is it available on this side of the pond?
Daliwch ati gyda’r gwaith da! Keep up the good work!
Great post, as always! To me, the poem was about life and boy can I ever relate to it in that context!
In my romantic suspense RUN TO YOU I use a great deal of nature and imagery taken from the beach. One reviewer referred to my description of the setting as “atmospheric” – I LOVE that (and I think I tell people every chance I get, LOL.)
Yeah, if your reviewer found it ‘atmospheric’ … that means you did your job describing the setting. Good job!
I’m glad my poem can touch different buttons in different readers. It’s definitely about ‘life’ and came at a time when everything in my life was changing. But I still ‘feel’ it as mainly prompted by the deluge of poems which swept me out to sea (so to speak).
Thanks for posting, Sarah.
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