It’s tough being a nature writer. Stuck in the middle of nowhere, you’re openly ridiculed or else lavished with the tenderness reserved for the soft-headed, your crabby handwriting filling journal after journal with minute observations concerning the machinations of every critter within range. You’re stuck in the middle of the intellectual world, too. Not quite the thing as a scientist, you will be disdained as an ‘amateur’, your painfully won raw data potentially of use but your world-view too narrow to make your observations or conclusions truly meaningful in dissecting rooms and herbaria. Not quite the thing as a literary type, either, you will be perceived as a mere describer of plants, bugs, birds and furry things, and woefully ill-equipped for plot and character development. The banality of weevil.
Today’s nature writers occupy their territory as uncertainly as ever, and the problem is all about structure. How can a nature book with literary pretensions have a beginning, a middle and an end (something all non-fiction editors now demand)? Nature books have to assimilate and present a vast amount of