Reflections on Nature journaling
Happy New Year! I know many are ready to move on and leave 2022 behind. But as we turn our calendars to January, I’m actually drawn to taking one more look at the previous year.
There’s so much that’s happened in life and nature this year. From things I’ve seen, experienced, accomplished, to new things I tried, and expanded my first-hand knowledge about nature and reflections about myself.
I’d like to honor those experiences. So before I dive into what ahead and new, I’d like to relive the joys through my nature journal pages. When I flip through pages, I remember things I may have forgotten, or find questions I had that I’d like to bring into 2023.
I’ve flipped through my nature journals and took a walk through my year. I didn’t record everything, but there’s so much here. If it was important to me or stimulated my curiosity or interest, it went into my journal.
Love before I started keeping a nature journal, I had been keeping a daily gratitude journal. This is where I write about the things I’m grateful for (almost) everyday. This practice has trained me to see more good than bad in my day, to more easily find things that make me feel grateful or happy about. It’s so easy to find problems in our lives –we are kind of wired to do that- to keep us safe. But to have an awareness of what’s going right in our lives- that takes some effort and training.
Keeping a gratitude journal is great practice for that.
So, I also flipped through my gratitude journal for 2022 and discovered so many things I’d forgotten- serendipitous events, good encounters, surprise gifts from friends and helpful people. And through my journaling I’ve trained my mind to look for the good that may be hidden in any situation.
As I wrote about positive outcomes to challenging situations, I was able to more clearly see how I’ve changed through my life experiences. As I’ve allowed more slow-down time, more nature and reflection time, and it made a great difference in my life.
So back to Nature Journaling!
In 2022, I filled SIX of my handbound journals, at about 120 pages each- so roughly 700 pages of nature journaling!
These are hand made journals customized exactly the way I like them! If you want to learn how to make these you can go here to be notified of my next class HERE- (I’m creating an online, self-paced class, too).
One of the things I like about having my old journals is that I can pull out a journal during the same month as it is now, and I can see what I might expect to see this year. Or I can compare what I see now with what I recorded in the past. In this way I’m noticing the seasonal changes, as well as how these changes might differ from year to year.
Although I’m a trained scientist, and I have used my journals to record data, with accurate, precise measurements, I’ve been shifting how I use my nature journaling for other purposes.
I mainly use it to help me slow down, connect more deeply to nature with my heart, and use writing and sketches to bring more meaning and richness while improve my memory and having a record for the future. I like to record my thoughts, impressions and feelings about my time in nature.
I see my nature journal as a sensory scrapbook.
It brings me back to that moment- I can feel the temperature, smell the air, and step right back into that specific time in my life, often to the moment of joy that sparked my interest.
So, I’ve picked a few pages to highlight from 700 pages.
I did a lot of discovering mushrooms this year from January into spring and then in the fall. I don’t know the names of them all but THAT IS OK! I really, really enjoyed the discovery- like a treasure hunt, and getting down low to the ground to get to know each mushroom better.
I’ve learned some of the names- but that is not the goal for me. I noticed some cool details on the mushrooms I would not have noticed had I not sat with them and explored.
The red cage fungus was a new one for me! So cool to see them- I’m going to check that location again this year!
Blind and modified Contours as calming therapy
I incorporated more blind contours in my journal- especially when I was feeling like I “couldn’t draw something” or it was a bit tricky– Contour drawings have become my go-to style of sketches– It quiets the inner critical voice, and makes drawing easier!! I focus more on observing, and not fret about how the drawing looks. There’s a freedom in it!
I also began using modified contour drawing as a calming practice-– When I’ve felt scattered, unfocused, stressed, overwhelmed– I pulled out my journal and began slowly doing contour drawings. These were very therapeutic!
Some of you may know my ~monthly Dawn Chorus pages I’ve done all through 2020 and 2021. Each time, I’d go outside 30 minutes before first light (yes, it was dark, I had a headlamp)-to capture the early singers. Then, I marked down what time they sang/chirped along with the name of the bird, so that I could discover how long they remained in the chorus, and any other interesting patterns.
But in 2022, I stretched them out and did very few.
I heard the inner critic go “how come you haven’t been doing them? You’re missing out.. you should keep doing them…”
I realized I was doing the dawn choruses because I felt like I HAD to– since I’ve BEEN doing it with such regularity. So, I needed to re-evaluate WHY I do this.
WHY do I nature journal? I do it for joy, for fun, for wonder and discovery. If anything becomes a chore, I let it go. Allow it to rest, and follow what really lights me up.
Its not that I’m not interested in the dawn chorus anymore. I recorded it meticulously for 1-3 hour sittings every time. I’ve learn so much about my yard birds and their habits and time they join the daily chorus.
Now its time to give myself permission to explore other aspects of nature! I may come back to the Dawn Chorus pages, but only when it feels fun!
Hello Smartweed, and having fun with toned paper.
Here’s a plant I had wondered about for several years. I could never really get close to them at this location. Yes, I know you can take a photo and have an app identify it (not always accurate)– but it just wasn’t THAT important to me to get the name right away.
This year, the pond where this was growing was completely dry and fields of them were growing with pretty pink flowers. I sat beside them and nature journaled them. How beautiful there were close up! I visited them a few times this season. I DID end up finding the name, confirmed by other iNaturalist users– Pale smartweed.
I also incorporated toned paper (tan) in my hand-bound journals– I used to have small sheets of tan paper I can tape into my journal, but this time tried sewing them in- and I love it! Its perfect to use when I want to bring out white or pale details.
I loved this day when I drove down a street just as golden leaves were raining down on the street like golden confetti! You can read more here.
Brand new birds to my feeder! The Nutmeg Mannikins are often caged birds. These are feral and have expanded their range to be in Monterey County. I’ve seen them at a local park, but this is the first time at my feeder!
They have a distinct call– reminiscent to my pet Society Finches, so the sound caught my attention first. The adults are gorgeous cinnamon color head with delicate scaly breast feathers. Its been fun to watch them each day, and see them in the neighborhood.
I was inspired to paint with the river this summer. I sat on a fallen log that reached over the river, and the thought came to my mind. Paint with the river.
I dipped my hand into the river and wet my paper with the water so that I could do a wet-on-wet technique. I took my waterbrush pen and swirled it in the first color I saw in my palette, and touched the wet paper, here and there. Watching the paint bleed and spread across the page was super fun. After the color dried, I did contour drawings of what caught my attention. It was fun and freeing to journal this way, allowing nature to inspire each stoke.
Burned trees and my own burnout
I have been drawn to the sight of burned trees over this past year driving by forests consumed by recent fires. Something about the silhouettes were strangely attracting me. I couldn’t help looking and wanting to draw them. I thought there was so much beauty in the boughs after they have burned.
This journal page opened up an awareness in me. Seeing the burned out trees, reminded me that I had the feeling I was moving toward burn-out myself. I had a inner desire to create more time for me to be in deep nature.… I was able to go for 2-3 hour forest wanders, but something inside me needed more. I was depleted from a busy first half of 2022.
So I’ve learned to recognize my own inner seasons– and this fall has been a time for slowing down, unplugging, being more in nature, more creative time, giving myself permission to NOT nature journal everyday, and follow my heart’s desires. It felt like fall (enjoying the harvest of the year, and identifying what things, ideas, perspectives I needed to release) and winter (hunkering down to slower pace, less hurried and frantic, and making time for more restful replenishing things).
Now, I’m feeling like I’ve moved through my personal fall and winter and ready to burst forth with fresh spring energy.
I took a group of teachers out for a birding walk in a place that was new to me in the Sierras. We did what I call slow birding-– wandering through nature, having the birds lead us on our walk.
The focus was exploring what birds are there, without the pressure to name the bird and check off as many species as possible. Instead it was about being present in nature, using all our senses to awaken an awareness of more than the birds.
We drew pictures of what sounds the birds were making. If we don’t know the name, its okay, we gave it a number. We keep listening and looking until maybe we get another clue- like a glimpse of the bird, or habitat. Sometimes we’d day “oh, that sounds like bird #3, with the chattery call”.
Sometimes, we saw the bird, and we were able to tell the name. Sometimes it flew by and all we saw was a whirring of wings. Adding colors, and a colorful title make this page more fun. Next time you return to this place, you can add to the knowledge you’ve already collected.
Memory color walk
I got really inspired about focusing on colors of a place or nature by Mimi Robinson’s book, Local Color. I started to see the world differently when I focused on just color! I gave myself permission to NOT draw everything (phew!)- and focus on color instead! I LOVE color so this was a joyful way to nature journal.
I went for a walk in my neighborhood, without my journal, but had a folded piece of paper and pencil in my pocket. I made note of what colors I was seeing. I said the colors aloud, then wrote them on my paper. I didn’t have colors with me so I wrote words to remind myself for later journaling BY MEMORY!
It was fun to come home and write down what I saw, and added color dots of the actual colors as I remember them. I didn’t get hung up on the ‘right’ color, because I didn’t have the original to compare to.
Besides, the point here is NOT accuracy of color-– I was doing this by memory. It was more about being more fully present when I was seeing the colors, and mindfully noticing the range of colors. Even one bush can have various shades and colors!
How about you?
Now, how about you? Have you looked through your pages? Perhaps you’ll make a discovery in one of your pages.
What’s something you’d like to explore more of?
Is there a location you’d like to visit regularly this year to see the seasonal changes?
Is there a tree in your yard or neighborhood you’d like to get to know better? (when does it leaf out, or bloom flowers, or have fruit, or drop its leaves?)
Is there something you want to learn more about? Like a new flower or bird? you can do a study page- look up facts in a reliable source, and make notes!
More for 2023
I’m looking forward to exploring more nature in the new year. Going back to last year’s nature journal pages has got me excited!
I’ve pulled out my journal from January 2022–so I can flip through to remind myself what kinds of things are going on in my nearby nature at this time of year.
What else can I find in ordinary nature??
I’ll be sharing more of my pages and prompts as a means for YOU to reconnect with nature with your nature journal in a new course! Stay tuned!
Melinda’s events HERE
Melinda’s currently available classes HERE
Introductory Nature Journaling Video HERE
Past recordings of Monterey Bay Nature Journal Club HERE and HERE