Nature Writing: A Field Course

Professor: Gretchen Legler
Institution: University of Maine Farmington
Course Number: ENG 277H





CLASSROOM: Ed Center 113                      MEETING TIMES:M-R 9-12

PROFESSOR: Gretchen Legler                      PHONE: 778-7182 (voicemail)

OFFICE: 115 South St.                                                  897-6701 (home)                       

E-MAIL: [email protected]           OFFICE HOURS: M-R 12-1



REQUIRED MATERIALS: Available at Davaney, Doak & Garrett Booksellers in downtown Farmington and your favorite art store



Temple Stream, Bill Roorbach

The Sea Around Us, Rachel Carson

Nature Journal: A Guided Journal for Illustrating and Recording Your Observations of

the Natural World, Clare Walker Leslie.



►A  “Write in the Rain” notebook, especially made to withstand wet weather (if we get into any).

►Appropriate clothes and footwear (including a raincoat, hiking shoes, a hat, etc.)

►Insect repellent, sunscreen, poison ivy soap, etc.

►Personal first aide supplies and medications

►A daypack

►Field Guides (if you have these bring them to class, otherwise, we can check guides out of the library)

►A magnifying glass


►Water bottle

►A small pocket knife

►A set of watercolor pencils and at least one brush

►A small container for water (a film canister, for instance)

►A couple of regular pencils and an eraser

►A ball point pen



COURSE DESCRIPTION AND GOALS: ENG 277 is designed to be a field course in writing about the natural world, offering you the opportunity to develop and practice general techniques and processes of nonfiction writing. The course can count as ENG 212, the Beginning Nonfiction Workshop in creative writing.


BUT THAT’S NOT ALL! We won’t just be writing–we will also be learning to see what is around us in new ways. We’ll spend as much time as we can outdoors watching, feeling, listening, experiencing the natural world. Along the way we’ll also read work by nature writers, meet and talk to some local nature writers and natural scientists, and explore some of the aesthetic, ethical and philosophical issues that are inherent in writing about the natural world.


My objective for this class is that it give you the chance to:


1) read and analyze a variety of different kinds of nature writing

2) develop writing skills through short assignments

3) learn critiquing and workshopping skills

4) write your own prose about the natural world and have your work closely read and critiqued.


I cannot promise that taking this class will turn you into a writer; that depends mostly on you. In the end, my hope is that you will come away with a wonderful nature journal that you are proud of and that you will have been introduced to skills, concepts, ideas, that you can carry in your writer’s and naturalist’s toolbox forever.






A NOTE ON WORKLOAD: Remember that the formula for the amount of time you put into a class at UMF is 2-3 hours for EVERY HOUR of in-class instruction. That means that EVERY DAY for this class, you will be expected to put in at least six (6) hours of reading, writing and other out-of-class work. That’s 24 hours per week (at least).


1. Your final project in this class will be a completed Nature Journal, using Clare Walker Leslie’s blank journal as your starting point. This journal will include prose as well as drawings and will be your own creation. Everything we do during the semester will be fodder for this book, so it is important that you pay attention and make careful notes and sketches for later transfer into the journal. Along with the journal, I’d like you to turn in a reflective statement about the process of creating the journal, which should be at least 750 words long.


  1.  Keep up with assigned reading. In addition to the two booklength works of nature writing I’m asking you to read, I will assign many shorter works which will be handed out to you in class. All of these will be discussed in class and will be good material for your own thinking about the natural world for inclusion in your journal. You are expected to read all assignments carefully, annotate them, take notes on them, and come to class prepared for discussion. I’ll ask you for a 1 page summary/response on EVERY short reading and a 2 page response for each book. These will be collected at the end of each week.


3. Complete a 250 word daily reflection for each day of class. This will be quite informal and will read like a diary entry. You may want to use it to collect thoughts on field trips, class discussion, or any number of things. The week’s reflections will be handed in together with the reading responses at the end of the week.


4. Complete short writing assignments. Many of the assignments we do will be in the field in your notebooks and we’ll pause to read the results of these exercises out loud to one another and respond. Other short assignments I will ask you to complete at home, type up, and bring in to share with the class in a slightly more formal workshop setting.


5. Participate in workshops/Critique peer work. In addition to the workshops mentioned above, everyone will have their written work more formally critiqued in one of two workshops at the end of the term. You’ll be asked to provide me with a copy of the one-page critique you write up for each of your peers for these workshops. This will be graded.


6. Attend all classes. Because this class is so condensed and almost everything depends upon you being present, the absence policy is very strict. After one absence, any subsequent absences will result in a reduction in your final grade by a plus or minus point for each day you fail to attend class. This is true for absences for ANY reason. More than 5 minutes late equals an absence.


If you absolutely MUST be absent, I ask you, out of courtesy, to let me know ahead of time via email or telephone. You MUST make your own arrangements with a classmate to get homework and class notes, distribute your writing or collect your peers’ writing.


7. Conferences: Attend two 10-15 minute conferences—one with me and one with our course Teaching Assistant Lee Cart. The conferences will be held either before or after class.



Conferences / Critiquing Peer Work / Participating in Discussion: 10%

Reading Responses: 20%

Short Writing Assignments: 30%

Final Nature Journal and Process Reflection: 40%


POLICY ON LATE WORK:  No late work will be accepted. No exceptions.


POLICY ON HANDING IN WORK: Unless I specifically ask for work to be turned in electronically, I will expect ALL work for this class to be hard copy—either field notes, informal handwritten assignments, or typed assignments. All typed work must be double-spaced, Times New Roman, 12 point font on regular white paper.


ACADEMIC CONDUCT: University of Maine policies on student rights, conduct and academic dishonesty apply and will be upheld in this classroom. Please familiarize yourself with these policies, which are outlined in the University of Maine at Farmington Catalogue and in the Student Handbook. Examples of behavior that may result in dismissal from this classroom, reporting to the Dean of Students, and/or expulsion from campus, include plagiarism, harassment or intimidation of any kind, and any other disruptive or violent behavior.


SPECIAL CREATIVE WRITING CONCERNS:  In a class like this one, writers frequently take risks and write about things that are fearsome or difficult. We must all commit to respecting each others efforts in this area and agree that writing from this classroom will NOT  be shared with people outside our class, unless the writer is asked personally for permission.


EQUAL EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY is offered at UMF to students with special needs due to disability. Please notify me if a reasonable accommodation is needed to meet course requirements.


INCOMPLETES: Only under the most unusual of circumstances will I grant an incomplete.