In Conversation – Carlin on Day’s Words are Eagles

Gregory Day’s essays are immersed in the natural world, but think beyond the category of ‘nature writing’

Published: July 4, 2022
Author: Brian Carlin

Gregory Day’s essay collection Words are Eagles is carefully subtitled: “Selected Writings on the Nature and Language of Place”.

The word “nature” has crept in there perhaps to give a nod to the reader to expect some version of “nature writing”. But this is not nature writing. In fact, the book gently but firmly suggests we should think beyond the category of “nature writing” as we have grown accustomed to it.

Nature writing has traditionally been a celebration of both the pastoral and the wild. It speaks of nostalgic, rural borderlands and, beyond them, the “undisturbed” non-human world of imagined wilderness.


“Natural or man-made?” used to be ideal as the first of Twenty Questions, in the game of that name. An object was either one or the other. In the tradition of post-Enlightenment Western thought, which most of us (including Day) are steeped in, sharp, confident lines are drawn between the categories of “nature” and “culture”.

But this book, in concert with ecocritical writing by Robin Wall Kimmerer, Donna Haraway, Anna Tsingand others, proposes other ways of relating to the more-than-human world in which we find ourselves. Day depicts not separation and detached observation, but immersion and entanglement. …

… It is an urgent invitation to become local, while respecting what you do not know and cannot claim. For a reader, like me, who is familiar with this place (the “Surf Coast”), Words are Eagles conjures an astonishing sense of what is hidden in plain sight: the polychromatic ochre timbres of the clay earth beneath the roads, the “pottery nest” of the willie wagtail couple in the boobiallas by the “eely river”, the Wadawurrung language the children are learning at the local primary school. 

It makes you want to be there, really be there.

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