Nature Journaling -- the Art of Seeing Nature

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Published on: Jul. 2, 1997

Last revision: Oct. 27, 2010

date you discovered it and notes about the size, color and shape will all aid in later identification. These kinds of detailed notes, combined with a field sketch of the flower, will help you identify it accurately and then add it to your list.

The nature journaling process works well here in two ways. First, the discovery is a personal journey, one that will be remembered better than if someone simply "labels" it for you. Second, you are left with more than just a name. You now "know" the object and you have a written record that will serve not only to refresh your memory of that particular wildflower, but of an entire springtime walk in the forest.

On occasion, I go through my journals and "rediscover" my first encounters with new objects. As a bonus, a single page of the journal often evokes memories of hikes that occurred over ten years ago. Suddenly, the newly encountered wildflower is remembered along with the companions of my hike, the scents we encountered, what we ate for lunch and even some of the stories we told.

In our busy lives it's difficult to carve out enough spare time to get to know something. Often our observations can only be made while we are sitting quietly in a crouched position or lying stretched out on our stomachs for a better view of something small. Nature journaling gives us permission to slow down and provides us with quiet time to enjoy nature.

On occasion, field sketches need to be rendered hurriedly to catch the essence of something like a warbler quickly flitting in and out of our view. For this, nature journalists use a drawing technique known as gesture drawing. By simply holding the pencil half-way up and by looking directly at the object being drawn rather than the paper, the successful journalist quickly captures the movement of the bird on paper. These quick "gesture" drawings later serve as a reminder of the creature's essence and vitality and can be used by artists to create more accurate and detailed drawings at a later date.

Another reward of nature journaling is its ability to heighten our awareness of the natural world. Successfully identifying one wildflower, mushroom or tree opens up a whole new world of natural objects to explore and to get to know. After discovering one object, we are often amazed at how many times we encounter it and realize that we must have walked by it many times before, completely oblivious to its existence.

Whether you enjoy hunting and fishing, canoeing Ozark streams, finding morel mushrooms or adding to your life list of birds, a nature journal is the perfect companion to enable you to enjoy your outdoor experiences more fully. You don't need to worry about expensive cameras and tripods. You can be well-equipped with nothing more than a pad of paper or spiral notebook, several pencils and a pencil sharpener.

Place these items in a plastic bag to keep them dry and you have your own personal nature journaling kit. While your journal may never be published as a historical document, it will serve as a personal record of your outdoor experiences, allowing you to accurately relive your memories each time you open its cover.

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