English 380: Ecolit: Reading and Writing the Landscape

Keeping a Journal

"...this our life exempt from public haunt
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones and good in every thing."

Shakespeare, As You Like It

Most nature writing begins with entries in a journal. Thoreau's journals fill dozens of volumes, and out of them, long after the daily experiences had passed, he culled and cultivated the words of his books. Journal keeping is good for producing raw material for finished work, but it's also valuable in itself. The solitary communication between diarist and notebook resembles communication between observer and landscape--what John Donne in his poem, "The Extasie," called "a dialogue of one."

Get or make yourself a nice blank book for reading and writing the landscape in this class. Keep it with you often and write in it at least three times a week, dating each entry. In addition to observations and reflections, the journal can include drawings, photos, diagrams, and quotations. I'll be looking at it at least twice, so dont include material you need to keep private. I'll be grading what I see not for quality or finish, but for quantity, variety, concreteness of description, and factual richness.

Topics to write about will be suggested by the readings, the class discussion and walks. You may want to steer your journal entries toward later writing assignments--the imitation of an ecoliterary work, the critical analysis of an ecoliterary work, a descriptive essay, and a reflective and persuasive essay.

Here are some suggestions from The Sierra Club Nature Writing Handbook by John A. Murray

Examples of student journal entries


A new alternative to keeping a journal in a book is weblogging or Blogging. It's an easy-to-use medium that has advantages over journaling: it includes pictures and even sound bites, it creates a legible and attractive format, it immediately publishes what you write and invites feedback from readers. Blogging has disadvantages as well: its formats are prepackaged, it's not private, and you cant easily (yet) take a computer with you out into the woods and record your impressions on the spot. Writing in a journal and transcribing to a blog allows you to get the best of both media. I encourage you to give it a try as a way to fulfill the journal requirement for this class. You'll find all you need to get started here:


You can check out my blog for this class at