descriptors / Setting

How to Describe Nature

I like to collect descriptions other people have of life. I keep them on a big spreadsheet that I’m constantly updating. I read a lot and I pay attention to how my fellow authors get their ideas across, how they create pictures of scenery from their words. I’m in awe of people like Peter Matthiessen with his nature descriptions and Margaret Meade with her emotion-invoking portraits of people.

Here’s my collection of nature. I’ve drawn many of them from the following authors:

  • Matthiessen, who I think is the quintessential writer on our environs
  • Margaret Meade–to her, people don’t exist outside of their habitat. I agree
  • Barry Lopez–a beautiful nature writer
  • many more I don’t remember, just copied their words down, in awe over their ability to draw me into their worlds

Here’s my list. I hope it inspires you as it does me:

  • big pink-lavender grasshoppers sail away on the hot wind, the burring of their flight as dry and scratchy as the long grass and
    nature descriptions

    Credit: Web Design Elements

    the baked black rock

  • grasshoppers clicking in the dry air
  • worn trail
  • the dusty trail led through desperate-looking junipers
  • every trail disappeared as thoroughly as water dried under Sun’s scorching heat, and then he just didn’t have time
  • the whisper of our passage through dry grass
  • stands out like a scar, catching your notice like the pain that caused it
  • mother nature’s store
  • pastoral scene
  • examine the lichen growth of low-lying boulders and the moss encircling the trunks of trees
  • the old decayed log, long softened by rot and spotted with moss
  • detect smoke for a distance of two to three miles
  • deep shadow of a maple tree
  • the air was rich with winter jasmine and cold, and grew even colder
  • a rough-skinned frog camouflaged against cracked and lined bark
  • leaves hung limp in the gray, damp air
  • nothing so black in Africa as the thorn tree
  • the day was out of sync with his mood
  • daylight had begun to drain away
  • air was cool but the sun was out
  • sky as gray-white and sunless
  • one-quarter of a moonlit night
  • cold light
  • silver-white moon hung
  • a half-moon rests in the fronds over our heads
  • watching the horizon drain of color
  • inky blackness
  • thick clouds blotted out the stars
  • a thin layer of clouds masked the full moon, filling the room with blue light
  • cool restful shady world with light filtering lazily through the tree tops that meet high overhead and shut out the direct sunlight
  • it supplies them with all of their needs
  • the season turned and the night was clear and cold
  • dusk blanketed Bakersfield
  • domesticated tree
  • cuts lengths of vine, softened it by running it quickly from hand to hand, pulling it sharply through the fork of the thumb
  • reeds and head-high marsh grass
  • dry and stalky and lost all nutritive value
  • dry grass, stalky brush and deadwood
  • hot scrub
  • tall tussock grasses
  • cattails (edible, soft fluff)
  • a green meadow bathed in the humid light of a sinking sun
  • gigantic gnarled spirals, almost as thick as a man’s body (the roots) joining the main trunk which towered above. Called ‘elephant tree’ because they always took refuge in one if they were attacked by elephants
  • the fire popped loudly as a stone exploded
  • splashed through the water, into a copse of juniper, pushing through the calf-high grass and scrub to a small rock outcropping
  • the damp air, the gigantic water-laden leaves that are constantly dripping, the violent storms that come with monotonous regularity, the very earth itself heavy and cloying after the slightest slower
  • whizzing chirr of the insects

Copyright ©2022 – All rights reserved.

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular prehistoric fiction saga, Man vs. Nature which explores seminal events in man’s evolution one trilogy at a time. She is also the author of the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers and Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. Her non-fiction includes over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, reviews as an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Savage Land, Winter 2024.


71 thoughts on “How to Describe Nature

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  12. Thank you for the list–I am always looking to find new ways to describe the strange experiences I feel when nature turns me inside out–upside down with its beauty, majesty and simplicity. Thank you for the inspiration.

    Liked by 2 people

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  14. This is an amazing collection, Jacqui. I collect “Schön-Sätze” and other descriptions and your list has given me more ideas. Thanks for sharing this work, that’s very generous of you. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

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  21. There, in that arid land and at this time in the day, nothing gave shadow, but everyone was seeking it. Including animals. No one was allowed to enter any of the buildings at daytime, but to store the harvest. The only refuge in that torrid aridity, were some scattered palms and the scarce, dry, distorted Tenere trees – the mushroom-shaped trees with few green leaves up in the crown – if any, and the only place where goats do not reach – gave scant shade; not enough to dissipate the depressing heat. Ghareeb was herding the goats to the well near the village, sluggishly walking back from a long day at work, dragging his sandals, red, hot dust seeping through his toes. He is not the only one; the goats – walked with hanging heads, open mouths and the long, floppy ears swaying to the rhythm of the stumble trot – they too, seem to crawl. Creeping their hooves, they raise a cloud of red dust that wrapped and accompanied them during the whole way. From time to time, he had to shake his feet to free the grit that got between his foot and sandals…
    The hamlet had three flat-roofed houses protected by a two-feet high fence made out of tightly intertwined branches forming a strong defence. The mud-houses – with the same terracotta colour as the surrounding ground dust – seemed empty shoeboxes burped by the desert. There is no defined joint between walls and ground. The loose dust, smashed against the walls by the sandstorms, formed a concave arc that welded the walls and ground into one piece. Only time spent in this bleakness will give someone the vital experience to spot a structure from afar. He was there for too long…

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  23. (J Krishnamurti describing a rainy day in India in his ‘Commentaries on Living-3) :

    “It had been raining continuously for a week; the earth was soggy, and there were large puddles all along the path. The water level had risen in the wells, and the frogs were having a splendid time, croaking tirelessly all night long. The swollen river was endangering the bridge; but the rains were welcome, even though great damage was being done. Now, however, it was slowly clearing up; there were patches of blue sky just overhead, and the morning sun was scattering the clouds. It would be months before the leaves of the newly-washed trees would again be covered with fine, red dust. The blue of the sky was so intense that it made you stop and wonder. The air had been
    purified, and in one short week the earth had suddenly become green. In that morning light, peace lay upon the land. A single parrot was perched on a dead branch of a nearby tree; it wasn’t preening itself, and it sat very still, but its eyes were moving and alert. It was of a delicate green, with a brilliant red beak and a long tail of paler green. You wanted to touch it, to feel the colour of it; but if you moved, it would fly away. Though it was completely still, a frozen green light, you could feel it was intensely alive, and it seemed to give life to the dead branch on which it sat. It was so astonishingly beautiful, it took your breath away; you hardly dared take your eyes off it, lest in a flash it be gone. You had seen parrots by the dozen, moving in their crazy flight, sitting along the wires, or scattered over the red fields of young, green corn. But this single bird seemed to be the focus of all life, of all beauty and perfection. There was nothing but this vivid spot of green on a dark branch against the i blue sky. There were no words, no thoughts in your mind; you weren’t even conscious that you weren’t thinking. The intensity of it brought tears to your eyes and made you blink – and the very blinking might frighten the bird away! But it remained there unmoving, so sleek, so slender, with every feather in place. Only a few minutes must have passed, but those few minutes covered the day, the year and all time;
    in those few minutes all life was, without an end or a beginning. It is not an experience to be stored up in memory, a dead thing to be kept alive by thought, which is also dying; it is totally alive, and so cannot be found among the dead.”

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  25. Funny that. I’m reading ‘Madame Bovary’ at the moment and today I came across some beautiful descriptions of French provincial life. Here’s one of my fav:

    “In the avenue a green light dimmed by the leaves lit up the short moss that crackled softly beneath her feet. The sun was setting; the sky showed red between the branches, and the trunks of the trees, uniform, and planted in a straight line, seemed a brown colonnade standing out against a background of gold.”

    “Through the chinks of the wood the sun sent across the flooring long fine rays that were broken at the corners of the furniture and trembled along the ceiling. The daylight that came in by the chimney made velvet of the soot at the back of the fireplace, and touched with blue the cold cinders.”

    The dexterity of Flaubert’s prose is amazing. He doesn’t write long, rambling sentences that tire the reader out. Instead he picks out the most vivid parts of a scene and reminds us of how we would feel/ remember if we had stood before a landscape like that.

    You’ve given me a great idea. I think I’ll start my own collection of favourite desc. by authors and see what I manage to find out about myself and the kind of ‘reader’ I am.

    Liked by 2 people

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