Writing the Lives of the Sonoran Desert

Writing the Lives of the Sonoran Desert: Exploring nature with words

Fee for students: $145

December 13–15

Instructors: Roseann & Jonathan Hanson

Register Here: https://writingthelivesofthesonorandesert.eventbrite.com

“This landscape is animate: it moves, transposes, builds, proceeds, shifts, always going on, never coming back, and one can only retain it in vignettes, impressions caught in a flash, flipped through in succession, leaving a richness of images imprinted on a sunburned retina.” 

      ― Ann Zwinger, Downcanyon: A Naturalist Explores the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon

Nature writers have inspired generations to love and protect wild places and wildlife. With words they can paint not just landscapes for us, but illuminate the intangible: feelings of belonging, of connections, of consilience.

In this class you will learn to explore nature with words, from poetry to fiction to science writing. You will learn to participate in nature fully and honestly, as well as to observe, record, and express nature in writing, without “purple prose.” 

To write well about nature you don’t just dribble adjectives and metaphors about the beauty and spiritualism of nature—you have to have something worthwhile to write about. But how do you do that if you’re not a field biologist, immersed daily in the glory of nature? If you work 50 hours a week and have a young family? 

Nature writers Jonathan and Roseann will share with you their “secret” for a daily dose of wildness, along with a simple process of recording what you observe accurately, of researching facts and details, and then potentially producing an article or essay for personal enjoyment or publication.

“The truest art I would strive for in any work would be to give the page the same qualities as earth: weather would land on it harshly, light would elucidate the most difficult truths; wind would sweep away obtuse padding.” 

     ― Gretel Ehrlich, The Solace of Open Spaces


Prior to the workshop: The Hansons will share a suggested reading list and a few easy assignments to give you content to bring to the first class. 

Friday December, 13th, 5 - 7 pm

On Friday evening in the beautiful Desert Laboratory library, which resonates with over a century of powerful words about nature (it is the birthplace of the field of ecology and the venerable journal Ecology), Jonathan and Roseann will introduce types of writing and share samples to discuss: 

- Nature writing (more poetic writing; examples of writers: Terry Tempest Williams, Gary Snyder)

- Natural history writing (combining science with creative prose; examples of writers: Gary Paul Nabhan, Robert Michael Pyle, Ann Zwinger, Pete Dunne)

- Interpretive writing (careful interpretation of science-based facts into interesting writing for very general use) 

- Or a combination of all three, such as Diane Ackerman’s Natural History of the Senses.

Saturday and Sunday, December 14th and 15th, 9 am - 3 pm

On Saturday and Sunday the class will spend time exploring Tumamoc Hill and engaging with its wildness through writing exercises. Bring a lunch each day to enjoy in the Sonoran Plant garden courtyard. Throughout the weekend we’ll share writing, and discuss ways to overcome common challenges such as overly “purple” prose or writer’s block. 

By the end of class, you will come away with a new outlook on nature writing, along with new skills. Along the way the Hansons will challenge your perception of nature and your role in it—and spark your creative process.


Components include: 

overview of nature writing and its forms (prose, poetry, fiction, science);

field exercises for building skills of observation and recording;

writing sessions; 

sharing work; 

discussions about select nature writing examples. 


Jonathan and Roseann Hanson are writers, photographers, artists, biologists, and explorers. They studied at the University of Arizona in the 1980s under many re-nowned field ecologists, solidifying their passion for fieldwork and science. They have worked as resident naturalists and caretakers for U.S. Fish and Wildlife at Brown Canyon in Arizona’s Baboquivari Mountains; managed a guest ranch / nature lodge in the Chiricahua Mountains; taught dozens of nature and writing workshops; lead safa-ris in Kenya and Tanzania; and explored five continents together. Their co-authored books include Southern Arizona Nature Almanac,  Basic Essentials: Animal Tracking, National Park Tours of the Southwest, Desert Dogs, The Ragged Mountain Guide to Outdoor Sports, which won a national book award, and 50 Common Reptiles and Amphibians of the Southwest, which won a National Park Service award for Interpre-tive Excellence.