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Nature Journaling: A New Discovery Everyday

By Victoria Tolson, Education Manager

I had never heard of Nature Journaling before this past month and I had never done an activity like this before. I’m not much of an artist and my only experience keeping a daily log for work and school, neither of which was really applicable.  So, I decided to start this journal on the 1st of April with a goal to journal for at least 15 minutes every day and to pick one species or thing and learn something new about it. I had a (mostly) empty sketch book not made for watercolor painting, some watercolor pencils that I’d never used before, and a single paint brush. I did my best with the tool I had, writing about and sketching what I saw.  I was mostly successful with my goal of learning and connecting with my local environment. And the more I journaled the more I wanted to know!  

I started my first couple of days by just sitting right on my back stoop and looking at the things right in front of me. Stuff that I pass by every day without paying attention. About 7 feet from my back door is an oak tree and because it is spring this tree is the bane of my existence because it covers my yard in pollen. The first day I learned a little more about oak pollen. The next day I moved on to look at the tree itself and the next, I focused on the ivy that covers the bottom of the tree. Each day I wrote my thoughts, sketched/painted, and then researched a little to find something new that I didn’t know yet. Several times, I identified plants that I walked by every day and never knew the name of. I identified a White Fringe Tree (pictured) and Foxglove. And learned more about their historic usage and scientific names. I understood more about my local ecosystem and the effect we humans have it that I’ve really noticed before! 

Even plants I’ve known about since childhood, I was able to find out new information or look at more closely. It’s wild how symmetrical and mathematical plants look upclose! It makes sense that math is a universal language, even in the natural word. Plants like clovers, dandelions, and buttercups, things that we would normally dismiss as weeds, have amazing features when you get up close and personal with them! I would draw them from different angles and make sure I drew their different components. I was always amazed at what I would observe just by paying closer attention!   

I had some plants and animals that I also made a study of because I couldn’t figure out what they were in one day. For a plant I would draw a leaf, flower, and stem. I would make notes about their color, location, and appearance. Were they a small plant that liked shade? Did they grow close to the ground? These observations could help me narrow down and find the name of my mystery plant. I would then spend time looking them up and adding their name to my journal once I found it. I have this one purple flower that is the bane of my existence! The drawing and notes I took are on the side. If you know what it is then please reach out, because I have yet to figure it out!  

I’ve even spent this past weekend stalking a mating pair of birds with their nest to find out their species. I would try and make another discovery or observation to help me narrow down my suspects every time I went to observe them. Right now, my best suspect is a species of Wren but I don’t want to be too hasty and I’ve got time to figure it out, their eggs haven’t even hatched yet! I have time to be patient and just enjoy the process of discovering. And soon, I’ll get to add little baby birds to my journal and all the new observations that come with that! I do want to caution about observing animals. I was really careful not to bother the nesting pair too much. I don’t want to scare them away from their nest or stress them out when they are just trying to raise some babies. I observed them from a distance and only got a little closer to take a peek once. I took a pretty blurry picture of the inside of the nest to see what the eggs looked like. But the eggs were clear in the picture so I was able to add speckled eggs to my list of observations. Hopefully I discover the species soon! 

Nature journaling has been such a great way to get in touch with the natural world right outside my door-step. For this entire journal, I never went past the yards surrounding my house. I didn’t have to. There was so much to see and discover right in my own backyard! So for this Earth Day, I hope you are able to celebrate by starting a Nature Journal and discovering all of the wonder that nature has instore for you right outside your window. Because if there is one thing I’ve learned while keeping this journal, it’s that the most beautiful and wonderful sights were right under my nose all along. I just had to pay attention!