My sister and I visited the Tualatin Nature Park and Interpretive Center this weekend, and as we walked along the forest trail, I was struck by how primeval the place felt. Other than the occasional jogger and the lone call of a train whistle in the distance, I felt alone in the wilderness. Here we were, less than three blocks from a four-lane highway, but we knew instinctively that this place would be absolutely terrifying at night. The further we walked along the path, the more I felt the mood of the wilderness pressing in on us. Every inch of bark along the trees was covered with inches-thick layers of moss and lichens; the green and yellow palette glowed as if lit by neon. The smell of damp, dark earth assailed our nostrils, and above us, creatures (I hope they were birds) flitted through the canopy. Odd, evil-looking yellow fungi appeared to tempt us from the path. I wouldn’t have been one bit surprised to see a Triceratops amble across the trail in front of us.
It struck me that nature parks are an ideal place to come for a little world-building inspiration. Whether you’re looking for the sensory (sights, sounds, smells, textures) or extra-sensory (mood, atmosphere) experiences to add to your world-building tool box, nothing beats experiencing the real thing. Most cities have parks and recreation departments, and depending on the climate and geography in your area, it might be worth investigating. Be it a self-guided walk down the botanical garden path, a guided nature tour or a birding club outing, or even a hike in the desert or along a local creek; take a few minutes to stop and think about the feel of the locale. What are the sounds you hear when you stop and sit for a bit? Is there a breeze? What do you smell? When you look around you, what are the predominant colors, textures, and patterns? What is your mood in the place? Do you feel joyful? Uneasy? Relaxed?
Next time you need to do a little world building, think about looking for inspiration in your local nature park. Or better yet, take a hike.