Compositions of Nature


photos from jacob riyeff

Dr.Riyeff takes a photo at one of the SNAs.

Emma Phillips, Staff Writer

An assistant English professor at Marquette University, an aspiring poet, a writer, a dreamer. Jacob Riyeff is a husband and a father of three children. He started out this pandemic knowing that he and his family would need a creative outlet for the long months of boredom sure to be ahead. So, he decided to start a project.

“The project is what I’m calling the ‘state natural area poems’ or ‘sna poems’ for short,” Riyeff says. “I take a walk to see what I find there, write a three-line poem […], take pictures of what I find, and then post the whole [thing], along with a description of the State Natural Area, on my website.” 

Riyeff titled this photo “a stream with no name”

Over the course of the pandemic, Riyeff has visited over 70 State Natural Areas, and is planning to visit hundreds more, even if it takes, “years and years,” as he put it.

Riyeff’s focus is on the natural world in a local context, such as using his natural senses to gather what the places he visits present to him. He then crafts what he gathers into a “brief multimedia snapshot”.

“I don’t plan what I want to write ahead of time; I have a set form, and I ‘fill it up’ with whatever happens to be there. This keeps a sense of freshness in the project for me since I never really know what I’m going to encounter, and it’s prompted new experiences for me,” Riyeff says. 

Riyeff says that the point of the project is not to follow a strict structure, but to, in a sense, go with the flow.

“[I] don’t want the structure of the thoughts and observations to be the same every time, or the pattern of sentences and phrases to repeat too much. I’m not all that concer

Unnamed photo of a mushroom-covered tree.

ned with those aspects, because I’m prioritizing spontaneity,” Riyeff says.

Riyeff’s goal for his project is to visit as many State Natural Areas as possible. He wants to learn as much as he can about what he encounters and to encourage others to do the same.

Riyeff voiced a last message to those reading this article, hoping to share some insight on the world of academia. He says that there are many pros and cons to the profession, like most, but if you know yourself to be a risk taker and if you have the drive and passion for learning and thinking outside of the box, academia can be a wonderful career to go into.

“Whether we make it or appreciate it as an audience, art is one of the preeminent activities that makes humans unique and that makes life rich. It can be hard for us to remember

Scan QR code to be sent to Jacob Riyeff’s website at

that humans are part of the habitats in which we live, that we are part of the world—remembering that immediate encounters with the vast natural world around us are one of the great[est] discoveries we can make.”