Trying to Be There: Writing In and About Nature

“The mockingbird took a single step into the air and dropped. His wings were still folded against his sides as though he were singing from a limb and not falling, accelerating thirty-two feet per second per second, through empty air. Just a breath before he would have been dashed to the ground, he unfurled his wings with exact, deliberate care, revealing the broad bars of white, spread his elegant, white-banded tail, and so floated onto the grass. I had just rounded a corner when his insouciant step caught my eye; there was no one else in sight. The fact of his free fall was like the old philosophical conundrum about the tree that falls in the forest. The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” – Annie Dillard

Embrace the beauty of the autumnal season with a Nature Writing weekend retreat at Rockvale Writers’ Colony, November 12-14, 2021. 

Nature writing is often defined as environmental literature, or as the literature of place, or as landscape writing. The borders of the genre, though, are porous; after all, most writers write about nature in one way or another—some lovingly, some strategically, some politically, some lyrically. 

At this retreat, participants will hone their definitions and perceptions of nature writing. Participants will also have the opportunity to spend time outside, engage with natural landscapes, learn mindfulness practices to deepen their sensory and intuitive experiences of the natural world and practice writing about nature in inventive ways.  These practices will be designed for people who feel a desire to write directly about the land in a variety of genres, as well as for people who want to learn to develop richer, more realistic, and more meaningful settings for their creative work.

Cost: $415 per person (includes 2 nights in a private suite, 5 meals, snacks, 4 workshops with Melissa, and plenty of personal writing time)

Date: November 12-14, 2021

Place: Rockvale Writers’ Colony
            6994 Giles Hill Road
            College Grove, TN 37046

Retreat Schedule (tentative):

Friday, November 12, 2021:

4:00 to 6:00 pm – Check in and settle in. You’ll be given a short tour and we’ll show you to your assigned room.

6:00 p.m. – Dinner, Introductions, Overview of Retreat

7:00 p.m. – Workshop – Cultivating Mindfulness In- and Outdoors – This session will introduce basic principles of mindfulness and address some of the benefits for writers that can be gleaned from nature-based mindfulness exercises and practices.

9:00 p.m. – Free time / Bedtime

Saturday, November 13, 2021:

6:30 a.m. – Coffee Ready!

7:00 a.m. – Breakfast is available

7:00 a.m. – Optional Guided Meditation Practice

8:30 a.m. – Workshop – Nuances of Nature Writing – In this workshop, we will read and analyze the work of authors who incorporate nature into their writing in a variety of ways, including Annie Dillard, Barry Lopez, and Mary Oliver.

10:00 a.m. – Free Time for Writing

12:00 p.m. – Lunch

1:00 p.m. – Workshop – Communing with the Other-Than-Human – In this session, we will practice listening and connecting with other-than-human inhabitants of the fields surrounding the retreat center. (Weather permitting, parts of this session may be outdoors)

2:30 p.m. – Free Time for Writing

6:00 p.m. – Dinner

7:00 p.m. – Reading and Workshop with Special Guest, Linda Parsons.

Poet, playwright, and editor, Linda Parsons is the poetry editor for Madville Publishing and copy editor for Chapter 16, the literary website of Humanities Tennessee. She is published in such journals as The Georgia Review, Iowa Review, Prairie Schooner, Southern Poetry Review, The Chattahoochee Review, Baltimore Review, and Shenandoah. Her fifth poetry collection is Candescent (Iris Press, 2019). A gardener of 30 years, Linda’s poems and essays are immersed in the natural world—the cycles of discovery, rebirth, impermanence, disorder, and artistry—and how the garden shapes us as much as we shape it.

9:00 p.m. – Free Time / Bedtime

Sunday, November 14, 2021:

6:30 a.m. – Coffee Ready

7:00 – 8:00 a.m. – Breakfast is available. Come any time you’re ready

8:15 a.m. – Workshop – Creating a Regular Practice – In this final workshop, we will talk about how both mindfulness and nature consciousness can be incorporated into daily rituals for writing and life more broadly.

9:15 a.m. – Reading / Sharing your writing – Retreaters are invited to briefly share some of their writing, either previously written or work created during the retreat. 

11:00 p.m. – Checkout and Goodbye


We are excited to be joined once again by Melissa Jean, an Assistant Professor in the Mindfulness Studies masters’ program at Lesley University, where she also works as an Interdisciplinary Studies facilitator for Creative Writing MFA students. She teaches courses in academic writing, creative writing, research methods, and mindfulness and the environment. She received an MFA in Fiction Writing from Lesley, and a Ph.D. in Human Dimensions of Ecosystem Science and Management from Utah State University. Her writing has appeared in The Colorado Review and a variety of online journals, including most recently Junoesq, The Hopper, Waxing and Waning, and Causeway Lit.