Nature Journaling -- the Art of Seeing Nature

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Published on: Jul. 2, 1997

Last revision: Oct. 27, 2010

either category. Any tree with needlelike leaves is simply categorized as a "pine tree" and we fail to notice whether it is a native short-leaf pine, or an eastern red cedar, or maybe a cultivated spruce or fir.

In our haste to categorize it, we miss out on really knowing it, not only by its given species name but as an individual tree with unique qualities that are revealed only by careful observation. While the ability to accurately name objects in nature is a wonderful gift, it can interfere with our ability to learn about them.

Many of us only observe nature in a scientific mode. Often we know an animal by its scientific name, can relate its life history and know where it's normally found. All too often, that is enough to satisfy our curiosity. Nature journaling, particularly sketching an object in nature, exposes us to artistic expression and an alternative way of appreciating and enjoying nature. Drawing an object forces us to slow down in order to observe it carefully and to see it as it really is.

Unfortunately, the word "drawing" conjures up expectations in people, forcing them to categorize themselves as either artists or not. All too often, we see ourselves in the latter category. Drawing is a curious process that is so closely related to seeing that the two can hardly be separated. After all, anyone can draw. Drawing is simply making marks on paper and all of us are capable of that. It's "the seeing" that is really difficult.

Again, it is our powerful urge to categorize nature that hinders our ability to see it. However, with effort and practice, we can tune into our creative side. Seeing nature clearly frees us from categorizing it, and drawing forces us to make accurate observations that better enable us to identify things in nature.

Every outdoor enthusiast, whether professional or amateur, strives to learn more about the natural world. Many of us keep lists of birds spotted and the various wildflowers and trees we can identify. All of us, however, are occasionally stumped by something we can't identify.

Unless you are blessed with a photographic memory, relying on memory alone to later identify this newly encountered object can be extremely frustrating. If it's a wildflower, recording your written observations about the site on which it was found - habitat type, topography of the land, direction of the slope - combined with the

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