Things That Are is Amy Leach’s whimsical collection of nonfiction essays about the natural world. These essays blend poetry, nonfiction, and nature writing—bending the genre and exploring the boundaries of what form creative nonfiction can take. It’s through the unexpected and illuminating prose that Leach seeks to create a relationship between the reader and the wild world.
What is most effective about this collection of essays is that Leach creates the kinship between natural world and the reader by being less concerned with making sense of the scientific topics that she’s exploring, and instead choosing to highlight the wonder that is rooted at their core. Instead of depending on dense scientific data, every essay is informed and elucidated through descriptions that focus on marveling at the individual beauty of every explored aspect of nature. Leach empathizes with the wilderness, and as such her readers do as well. The reader develops a fond attachment and sympathy to nature through surprising personifications, such as, “Desire makes plants very brave, so they can find what they desire; and very tender, so they can feel what they find.” Echoing our own vulnerabilities in the life of the plant, readers sense the tenderness and intentionality of nature.
Mirroring the unpredictably of nature, Leach takes the reader through seemingly meandering thought processes where one ends up initially sympathizing with a pea and ends up following the science of pollination. But despite the unpredictability Leach gives her subjects a human voice, such as “‘I have my mother’s petals!’ ‘I have my father’s filaments!’” Humorous reflections on behalf of creatures that are incapable of evoking a voice for themselves, Leach serves as the chairperson for the voiceless. The charming narration from unexpected places endears the reader to the topic. Nature takes on human qualities that work to emphasize the reader’s own humanity—where do we fit in the larger spectrum of the natural world?
The freedom to explore these winding thoughts gives the reader the autonomy to come to their own conclusion about the “point” of each of the essays. That being that we, as humans, are connected and intertwined to the natural world. Leach emphasizes the connection to the non-human topics by giving a soul to the wildness and a heart to her subjects.
Leach, Amy, and Nate Christopherson. Things That Are: Essays. Milkweed Editions, 2012.