This week, we are talking with Seabrooke Leckie, whose blog The Marvelous in Nature just celebrated its one-year blogoversary. Seabrooke is a writer, illustrator, photographer, and wearer of many hats, currently to be found wandering the woods of the Frontenac Axis north of Kingston in eastern Ontario. Her love of nature began as a child and continued through her degree in Zoology, after which she traveled and did bird research.
Seabrooke is now pursuing a career in writing and art. Her current projects include a collaboration with her friend, the Moth Man, on a field guide to the common moths of northeastern North America, to be part of the Peterson Field Guide series. She is also working on illustrations for a field guide for the birds of Brazil and a more local book similar to the recently-published Birds of Hamilton, but for a different county.
Here are three of her favorite posts from the blog:
She recently posted The best of 2008 and A year in photos to celebrate her favorite words and pictures from her first year blogging. In addition to her blog, her artwork and photography can be viewed at her Etsy store.
Seabrooke, Why do you blog?
I’ve been writing to the web since 2002, primarily on a personal basis, as a way to keep in touch with friends. I started The Marvelous in Nature last winter. It’s hard to say exactly what I was thinking at the time, but it was probably tied into my mid-winter cabin fever as I waited impatiently for spring, and the plethora of life to arrive with it. I thought it would be fun to start a blog where I share some of the things I was seeing – and also use it as a tool to force myself to learn more about said things. I’ve learned a lot about many things that I might previously have stumbled across, said “huh, that’s cool”, and carried on. Also about things that I thought I knew all about already, but end up learning more.
What do you like best about blogging?
It’s hard to narrow it down to just one thing I like about blogging. I like to write, that’s a given. I find my fingers have a tendency to run away with me and before I know it there’s a whole paragraph where I had intended to just put a sentence. I like to share, and to teach, especially to people who are keen to learn what I’m teaching. When I find out something nifty I feel the need to share it with others. I love when something I’ve discovered leads to someone else discovering something new in their locality. I also like the sense of community one gets from writing to a blog. You develop acquaintances and friendships through your regular readership and the blogs you yourself read.
Tell us about the name of your blog.
It took me two days to settle on a name for my blog, after I’d made the decision to start up a nature blog. I had decided on WordPress as my blogging platform, so I had to find a name that wasn’t taken there yet. I had initially been thinking of The Great Outdoors or Nature Nut or variations on the theme. Pretty much everything I put in had already been taken, although surprisingly few were active. I decided to try looking at famous nature-related quotes to see if one would lend itself to a blog name (and then become the blog’s slogan). I discovered a quote by Aristotle which read, “In all things of Nature there is something of the marvelous.” I tried a number more without feeling satisfied about any of them before I came back to that quote and settled on The Marvelous in Nature as the name of the blog. I felt it most accurately summed up the intended purpose and goal of the blog.
What’s unique or different about your blog?
I found in browsing other peoples’ blogs that while many would have great photography or highlight interesting things, and many would even identify the subject, few would elaborate on the natural history of the subject. I always found myself wanting to know more about the plant or animal, where and how it lived. There are a few blogs that provide this additional information on their subjects, but they’re the minority. I try to blend good writing, decent photography and interesting information on a subject, whatever I happen to run into from day to day. There’s so much to learn about the natural world and I’m limited to my little geographic corner, but I hope to be able to share at least a little of it.
To what do you attribute the popularity of your blog?
I think it’s because the people who read it enjoy learning new things about subjects they’re familiar with, or learning about new subjects. There’s something new in each post. You know that phrase, made famous by Forrest Gump: “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Nature is like that. Every time you go out you find something new, or something that you’ve overlooked a hundred times and suddenly just noticed. I could write for years before I began to run out of material. I also try to work in a personal approach to the subject, and write in a way that someone without any science background could easily understand, so it’s not simply a cold, hard Wikipedia run-down of the facts.
How do you promote your blog and attract readers?
I participate in a few carnivals – I and the Bird, Festival of Trees and Circus of the Spineless (before it went defunct) being the primary ones – and have hosted a couple. I don’t use StumbleUpon nearly as much as I really should, mostly because I use a feed reader to follow the blogs I read so there’s an extra step or two in doing so and I tend not to remember, but I know a few of my readers do (and I’m greatly appreciative of it!). When I’d first started up the blog I left comments on others, which of course included my address and so directed people back to my own blog. I also joined the Nature Blog Network shortly after it started up. But other than that, I don’t do a whole lot of promotion. People tend to find my blog through Google or other search engines, and I know I’ve had a number of new readers come by that route.
Any comments on being part of the nature blogger community?
The nature-blogger community was a bit of a surprise to me when I first started out, but a nice one. I’ve “met” some interesting and friendly people from all over through the blog. I have yet to meet any of them in person, though there are many I would love to take a walk in the woods or sit down and have tea with. There aren’t too many either living or visiting out my way, however, and since shifting my career focus I don’t travel as much as I did, either.
Has blogging changed how you think about nature? or how you write?
It definitely has. I pay more attention to my surroundings during hikes now than I used to, since I’m always in need of blog fodder! I look at the little things, and spend more time observing inanimate stuff than I would have without the blog. Fungus was never so interesting as it is now that I’m stopping to look more closely! I’m also realizing that there’s a story behind everything, even something as seemingly simple as a flower or a beetle.
How does being a blogger interact with being an artist? Do the two roles influence each other?
Unlike some artists (Julie Zickefoose, for instance), I tend not to blog about my art very often. The work I do, at least lately, has been tied into projects for publications, and I haven’t done very much just for myself. However, that’s not to say it won’t be a possibility in the future. Probably the most direct influence my artistic side has on my blogging is through the composition of my photos. I rarely post a photo directly as it comes out of the camera. Most are subjected to the digital darkroom, where they are lightened, sharpened, saturated, and/or cropped, depending on what they require to bring out the best of the photo. Cropping is probably my most important tool, as I find the composition is the most important element of a photo.
Do you think of blogging as part of your work, or as a separate non-work activity?
For years my journal was for pleasure, and even when I began The Marvelous in Nature I considered it non-work. However, with the career shift into writing I consider it more work-related these days, both for exercising my writing muscles and as a form of publicity, as small as it may be. Perhaps I hold out some small hope that it may also lead to a paid gig down the road, too. The recent discussion on the NBN Blog, Economic Models for Sustainable Blogging, about the feasibility of earning income from one’s blog has been an interesting one. I invest anywhere from six to ten hours a week in the blog, research the background information for a subject and then distilling it into 1000 words that the lay person can understand. Those hours have to come from somewhere, and because I need my work hours for paid work, inevitably blogging time cuts into my off-hours. It is sometimes difficult to balance all the different things I want to get done during that time, both household chores and pastimes. It would be nice to earn some petty cash from the blog to be able to justify using work hours to write to it, or otherwise not feel so bad for not getting to the laundry because I was occupied with a post. That said, I enjoy doing the blog, and will continue to post about the cool things I see, but the trade-off may end up being that fewer hours are spent on posts than I would like or the subject deserves.
Any words of wisdom for new nature bloggers?
Make sure you enjoy what you’re writing about. Pick a focus as broad or narrow, as personal or generic as appeals to you. If you don’t like what you’re writing you won’t enjoy keeping the blog. Write for yourself, not for your intended audience. Also, make sure you have good content. If you post about interesting things, or always have good photography, the audience will come. Post either frequently or on a regular schedule, so readers have a reason to keep returning to see what’s new at your blog. If you post sporadically, readers may lose interest. And finally, join the community. Participate in carnivals, and visit other blogs. You’ll meet many fabulous people.
Anything else you’d like me to ask you, or that you’d like to volunteer without being asked?
I just want to say thank you for offering me this opportunity to share a bit about myself. Also, to commend all the folks at NBN who developed this fabulous site and work hard to keep it going for doing an excellent job!
Thank you, Seabrooke.
Is there a member of the Nature Blog Network you’d like us to interview? Or a question you’d like to ask one of more of your colleagues? Leave a comment or send us an email – we’d love to hear from you.
Coming up on future Mondays: Interviews with Coffee and Conservation and with Rurality.