Keeping a Nature Journal

We need the tonic of wildness…We can never have enough of nature…We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander.

Henry David Thoreau from Walden

 

Being in nature and allowing ourselves to absorb both its gentle beauty and fierce power is a healing act. We do not have to travel far to open ourselves to this gift.

njournalAfter six months of struggling with traffic and sensory overload in the heart of Denver, I longed for the unbroken vista of bleached prairie grass and blue sky of South Dakota where I once had lived. Cut off at the roots, I longed to see a hawk lofted by the wind or a sky so full of stars, it took my breath away, but I didn’t have the time or money to get away.

One morning after waking to the sound of sirens, I was feeling particularly sorry for myself as I walked the two blocks to a nearby convenience store for the morning paper. With every step, I grumbled about the exhaust fumes and the sound of traffic. As I headed back, my muttering stopped when I caught a glimpse of black fur out of the corner of my eye. There, loping down the middle of my apartment-lined street, was a black fox. He looked me in the eyes, and I could have sworn he nodded in greeting.

As I wrote about that encounter afterwards, I realized that even in the city, we are a part of the wild web of life. Reconnecting only requires noticing our surroundings and acknowledging what we observe.

I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in.

George Washington Carver

 

When we open ourselves to the natural world, we escape the fast-paced bustle of our daily lives. That experience, not only reduces our stress, it also grounds us, reaffirming our connection to the Earth and all its creatures.

Keeping a nature journal is a wonderful way to become spiritually centered. We are rewarded for the attention to detail and patience this practice requires with deepened understanding of what it means to be human and alive and a part of Creation.



All the facts of natural history taken by themselves, have no value, but are barren like a single sex. But marry it to human history, and it is full of life.

Ralph Waldo Emerson from “Nature”

 

What you decide to put in your journal is a personal choice. Nature journals run the gamut from field notes, which limit themselves to objective descriptions of what the writer has observed, to fully developed poems, stories, or essays in which the landscape is a major character. You may be called to draw or paint in your journal as well as write in it or to fill its pages with photographs or pressed flowers.


natureNo matter how you decide to keep your journal, the following ideas can help you begin.

  • Focus on concrete sensory images. Nature writing is writing from the senses, writing from the body, rather than the mind. Attend to and record sights, sounds, textures, smells and tastes.
  • Make metaphors. The cycles and events of nature are mirrored in our daily lives and human interactions. What do the things you observe on your nature walks remind you of?
  • Be willing to learn. Ultimately nature journal keepers learn, not only about the world around them, but their internal worlds as well. As you write, ask yourself what life lessons can you carry away from your observations.

Whether you trek into the wilderness for days at a time or pack a peanut butter sandwich and hike to your neighborhood park, you’ll want to select a journal that is both sturdy and compact. Hard covers come in handy, since you may balance your journal on your knees as you draw or write in it. Artists’ hard cover sketchbooks work well, as do simple and inexpensive bound journals. The five by seven size fits neatly, along with pencils and pens, into a zippered plastic freezer bag to protect it from the elements.


Web Resources on Nature Journaling:

Tracker’s Den
This is a beautiful site that offers a forum for nature enthusiasts to share their photos and writing. The site was founded by Khan Gorelewski.

Diamonds in the Rough
This essay by Linda Chorice provides a thought provoking introduction to nature journaling and how it causes us to rediscover the world around us.

Nature Study
If you want to learn how to press flowers and leaves, this is the place to begin. Home School Support has gathered links to books and references suitable for children and adults.

Nature Writing Quotations
This is a wonderful collection from historical and contemporary authors.

Books about Nature Journaling:

For your convenience, if you wish to order a book from Amazon.com, click on its title. (Amazon sells both new and used books and offers free shipping on most orders that total more than 25 dollars.)


keepingKeeping a Nature Journal: Discovering a Whole New Way of Seeing the World around You by Claire Leslie and Charles Roth.
This book, which features drawings from the authors’ notebooks, provides exercises to get you started and keep you going. Simple drawing lessons add to its usefulness.

A Trail Through Leaves: The Journal as a Path to Place by Hannah Hinchmann.
The author, who teaches illuminated journal classes, writes, ” Curiosity extends both inward and outward: You are a naturalist on the trail of your own life, and you search for insights in the more-than-human world as well as the human…Start with the senses and “decant the stuff of life.”

Leaf Bird Days & Firefly Nights: Personal Renewal through Nature Journaling by Beverly J. Letchworth.
Organized around a one-year cycle, this book focuses on observation as a key to personal healing.

The Alphabet Of The Trees: A Guide to Nature Writing by Christian McEwen and Mark Statman.
This practical collection of essays will provide you with ideas about how to inspire children and young people to write about nature. Topics include poems, field journals, fiction, and nonfiction.

Writing Naturally: A Down-To-Earth Guide to Nature Writing by David Petersen.
If you decide to polish and market your nature writing, this is an excellent source of information about subject matter, length, and research.