Andrew Terrill

The outdoor diary of a writer, photographer, and wilderness wanderer

The Importance of Responsible Nature Writing

Since The Earth Beneath My Feet was published I’ve received a variety of messages and emails from people I don’t know. To be honest, I hadn’t expected any. I had no idea if anyone would read my words, let alone react to them and reach out. But strangers have, and it has frequently been humbling and thought-provoking.

Yesterday, the short but pointed email I received was both of these things. It pushed me to re-evaluate (once again) the value of what I am trying to do with my writing, and to examine as honestly as I can whether or not my work has a positive or negative effect on the wild places I claim to love. I took my time considering this email, then took my time writing a reply. Although it might be a mistake and might seem self-serving – too much self-justification – I’m sharing my response here, primarily for others who might share the opinion of the person who sent the email.

If you have any thoughts about any of what follows, please do share them. I welcome all feedback.

Summit Moment


It began with this email:

“if you love colorado, please STOP writing about it! send the hordes to utah or idaho. my ancestral home has been trampled enough. thank you”


After considering the email and the understandable passion behind it very, very carefully, here is my reply:

Dear _____,

Thank you for your email. I hear you. I feel your frustration and sorrow.

You’ve raised a subject that I take extremely seriously and have thought about often. I believe that I can relate to some of the motives that might have prompted you to write. I’m also well aware that there’s much behind your message that I might not know. I truly respect you for speaking up. I wish that more people spoke up in defense of our fragile landscapes and their living communities. I sense great sorrow behind your words for the lands that have been diminished and destroyed – for all that has been lost. You may or may not believe me, but I share that sorrow.

Because of how seriously I take this, I am going to reply fully. However, in case this is too much, here’s a short reply first:

I regard nature as sacred, to be treated with reverence. Millions of people are going to head into nature whether I write about it or not. The best I can do, as someone who cares, is to use what minimal influence I have to encourage people to visit gently and reverently. THIS is what I try to do with my writing. This is what I will continue to try to do.

evening light

Here’s the longer reply:

Firstly, let’s address your suggestion to ‘send the hordes’ to Utah or Idaho (or to any other places). I have to ask: wouldn’t this harm those other places? Isn’t all of nature worth our care, not only those parts we personally know? In my opinion, a massive part of what ails humanity is that we too often only care about what effects us personally and see locally. Until we address the bigger picture we’ll never make progress.

Secondly, and perhaps more relevantly, let’s be realistic: my influence as an independent writer is tiny. Would the trampling of Colorado (or anywhere else) really be reduced if I stopped writing – or if other writers like me also stopped? My impact, for better or worse, is insignificant. Honestly, I wish it was significant. I wish I could have a great and long-lasting impact. Then perhaps, I could make a difference.

This is one of the reasons why I write – to make a difference and bring about a change. I write about nature and wild places because I love them and, more fundamentally, because I regard nature as my true home – as all of humankind’s true home. I write not to encourage trampling but to encourage a gentle, thoughtful and educated approach. I write for many reasons (and yes, some are arguably self-serving), but prominent among my reasons is to open eyes and hearts, to have readers see all of nature (and not only Colorado’s nature) as sacred, and to then treat nature with the reverence and care it deserves.

Like you (from the sound of it), I’ve seen our sacred places trampled by ‘the hordes’ and I’ve experienced the pain of it. And like you, no doubt, I’ve seen mainstream media sources as well as individuals who should know better thoughtlessly and selfishly encourage this trampling. I’ve seen stories in print and online that are read by tens of thousands ‘give away’ fragile locations and previously unknown places without an apparent thought for the harm being done and without any attempt to educate people on how to visit gently. Stories like: ‘Top Ten Paces To Find Solitude’ and ‘Ten Secret Corners You Need to Visit’ appear all too often.

I will never write stories like this.

Trashed alpine lakeside
An appallingly trampled location beside an alpine lake. Abused by visitors with no reverence for nature.

Yes, I do write in a way that encourages people to head into nature. But that’s because I passionately believe that improving humankind’s relationship with nature is essential for us and for the living planet. I believe that this beneficial relationship will only improve when people truly get to know nature. This is why I write: to share what nature really is; to help people experience it for themselves; to help them understand why immense care in nature is needed, and why care is a responsibility for all who go.

damage to a fragile place
Damage to my home, in this instance by a utility company that should have known better. I fought hard for reparations – and won them.

Please try to understand: when sharing my words and photographs I go to great lengths to avoid giving away any specific untrampled locations. Look through my blog and photos and you’ll discover that I seldom identify specific locations – only broad areas – and that when I do it’s usually because a location is already very well known. Look closely and you’ll see that, by and large, location details remain extremely and deliberately vague. In the past, people have asked me to share certain locations – but I’ve refused. For this I’ve been called “a selfish hypocritical gatekeeper” (and far worse). But the name-calling won’t change my approach. I will remain discreet and will never make finding specific wild places easy. I’ve observed that people who are encouraged to go and find their own secret places tend to grow both in respect for them and in a desire to take care of them and speak up for their protection.

If you look through my writing I believe you’ll also see frequent mentions of approaching nature quietly, slowly and respectfully – of practicing ‘leave no trace’. This philosophy of respect and care (and even worship) underpins everything I write. It is constantly in my mind while visiting our home and it is constantly in mind while preparing photos and stories. Perhaps you could take this final paragraph from a recent blog as one example:

An important final note: if you visit this location, please visit gently and respectfully. Leave it as you find it: undamaged, unaltered, untrampled, undiminished. Sadly, not everyone does that, as the photo below shows. The people that visit this wilderness spot have thoroughly altered it for their convenience. This is not leave-no-trace camping. It isn’t ‘visiting’ nature – it is selfishly ‘using’ it. And arguably abusing it. For everyone reading this, let’s be better. Thank you!”

leave a trace camping colorado 28 july 2023

Yes, I’m not naïve enough to believe that my writing causes no harm. Potential harm is never far from mind and it does weigh upon me. But through the message I attempt to send and through the approach to nature that I strongly encourage I am hopeful that my writing does more good than harm. Whether or not it does is something I frequently debate with myself. Of course, it’s impossible to know the truth of it, but I have had several exchanges with readers in recent years who have admitted to being given ‘something to think about’ when it comes to their own outdoor habits. I HAVE seen positive changes made. If I were to stop writing I’d lose the opportunity to play a part in these changes for the better.

I suspect that this response from me isn’t the response you wanted. But I hope you’ll try to understand, and I hope that you’ll accept my sincere and heartfelt apology – but I won’t stop writing about nature. I believe that writers who care for nature are needed now more than ever to balance the uneducated mainstream influences that encourage the trampling and that have zero respect for our shared home. As you no doubt know, too much of our modern-day society regards nature as a commodity for use and consumption. It regards nature as something humans are separate from and ‘above’. But I do NOT regard nature this way, and this is why I won’t stop writing. Honestly, this is why I encourage everyone who cares about nature to share and write about how they really feel. They should speak up as you have done to me. And as I hope you also do to mainstream publishers, writers and media sources who have far more influence than I have. Speaking up for nature and writing about the sacredness of nature is too important to stop.

Please know that your message won’t be forgotten. As I wrote above, my influence is small but, thanks to you for this reminder of my responsibilities, I will be even more intentional in using what little influence I do have to fight against the trampling. This is why I am also publicly sharing my reply to you here on my blog: to announce my commitment to responsible nature writing, and to request that every single reader who see this also commits to visiting nature responsibly – to visiting with reverence, and to never causing harm.

Sent in apology, gratitude and respect,



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