Nature Journaling -- the Art of Seeing Nature

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Published on: Jul. 2, 1997

Last revision: Oct. 27, 2010

Family summer vacations were things of magic in my childhood. The excitement before the actual trip - the planning and waiting - almost overshadowed the adventure itself. After the long-awaited vacation was over, the only thing we felt we had to look forward to was getting the snapshots and 8mm movie film developed so we could relive the memory.

With great anticipation, we pored over the pictures and listened to the commentary provided by my parents. "Here we are heading into the Gunnison National Forest," my father would say. "Bob," my mother would interject, "we're not even in Colorado in this picture." And so it would continue. The only time we relived the memory accurately was when we were photographed standing in front of a state's welcome sign.

A journal would have helped.

A simple nature journal, complete with field sketches and notes about thoughts, feelings and location, is perhaps the best tool to trigger a memory accurately and vividly.

Journals also serve as historical documents, allowing us to relive someone else's past. Early explorer Henry Rowe Schoolcraft trekked across the Ozarks in 1818 and later published a detailed account of his journey. His journals depict a different landscape from what we see today. He vividly described the lush expanses of prairies and his encounters with herds of elk and bison.

While few of us will ever venture into uncharted territory, and many may never even explore neighboring states, adventures of the natural kind are available within our own backyards. And, while your discovery of a dragonfly struggling to free its wet, delicate wings from its nymphal skin may not be a new scientific discovery, it may well be a new and personal revelation to you and worthy of recording.

A nature journal is a place to record your encounters with the natural world - from the everyday to the sublime. Field sketches, regardless of the degree of artistic talent with which they are rendered, force us to look closely and observe nature as it really is. Nature is complex and in our limited capability as humans to understand it, we are often quick to simply categorize nature and feel like we know it.

For many people, trees come in two categories, those with evergreen looking leaves and those without. While this is an accurate way to divide all trees into the categories of either evergreen or deciduous, it doesn't allow for the tremendous diversity of trees in

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