When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and the world shut down last spring, local writer, Johanna DiBiase, had just moved into an off-grid house on the mesa. With social interactions put on hold, the invitation was to go inward. DiBiase did so by going outside.
"Out here there are incredible 360° views, the rim of the gorge right there, sometimes bighorn sheep. I'm walking out in nature right out my front door every day. So when the pandemic hit, I was immediately immersed in nature," she said.
DeBiase is an author, poet, and Creative Writing instructor whose work has appeared in Hayden's Ferry Review, Portland Review, Atticus Review, Prick of the Spindle and more. She has taught Creative Writing courses around the country and is also a certified yoga teacher whose writing practice and yoga practice often work in tandem. Inspired by the raw beauty of her natural surroundings and her yogic foundation, DiBiase has created the upcoming course, "Nature Writing Workshop with River Canyon Hike" taking place Saturday, May 15, from 9 to 11 a.m.
"When the pandemic hit, it made me realize that I wanted to write in a way that was more embodied, that came from a place that is deeper within ourselves beyond the critical mind," she said. "The aspect of going within with the combo of being immersed in nature became a real medicine."
The title "Nature Writing Workshop with River Canyon Hike" is straightforward, but only begins to touch the surface of what students can expect according to a press release about the course.
"Taos has a rich literary history of authors who found creative inspiration here, including D.H. Lawrence and Willa Cather. Taos is also one of the most beautiful and unique environments in the world to experience, particularly the Río Grande del Norte National Monument," DeBiase writes in her class description.
Nature writing is not a new idea. Aldo Leopold was a nature writer and conservationist whose name now identifies a wilderness area in the Gila National Forest. Poet Mary Oliver is famous for her poetry inspired by walks in the woods by her home.
"Nature Writing is a way to tune in more deeply with yourself, the surrounding environment and your connection with nature," DeBiase said. "The way I teach it is different from a typical writing workshop. We tune into the experience of our bodies and psyches in the natural world, using mindfulness and guided meditation. I am calling this an authentic and organic path into Nature Writing."
The workshop will start with a hike that will culminate at the banks of the river. DiBiase will use breathing and meditation techniques that allow and encourage students to root more deeply into their bodies. "Nature is embodiment. We are nature. Our bodies our nature and we can experience that through all of our senses instead of in an intellectual way, and then write from that meditative, embodied state."
The in-person class is two hours long and meets at the Taos Valley Overlook Trailhead at the end of County Road 110 past UNM-Taos Klauer Campus. After introductions and orientation, students will hike a gradual 1.5 mile descent into a beautiful canyon from dry desert region on top to lush riparian area below where the Río Pueblo meets the Río Grande. Often, wild bighorn sheep can be sighted. For the second half, everyone meets alongside the river for the writing course, which consists of generative writing exercises, meditative practices and listening to examples of nature writing. All writing is stream-of-consciousness and free of judgment. There is no experience in writing or hiking needed to take this course.
Concerning COVID-19, DeBiase said she will follow all up-to-date CDC guidelines. The course costs $45 and pre-registration is necessary as class size is limited. You can register at JohannaDeBiase.com/Events or on Facebook at WriterJohannaDeBiase/Events. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 575-613-3352 for more information or with questions.