15 Quiet Minutes: Nature Journaling

This 15 Quiet Minutes practice is perfect to pair with other 15 Quiet Minutes practices such as Mindful Walking or Spending Time Outside. The purpose of nature journaling is to pay attention to what is happening in the world around you and to make note of it in some way.

The most basic form of nature journaling is simply to write down what you notice happening in the world around you. You could do this daily, weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. Write down the date, and make a note of the weather and/or the moon phase, if you’d like. Make a few notes about the birds you notice, which trees are beginning to leaf out in the spring, or to change colors in the fall, which flowers are blooming or are finished blooming.

An example of a simple written entry, which is the majority of what I do in my nature journal.

If you aren’t familiar with the trees, plants, or birds in your area, look for field guides specific to your state or region to help you identify what you see. Often state college extension services publish field guides, or you can find them in your local bookstore or library. The extension service might also offer classes on tree or bird identification. Other places to look for classes are your local Audubon Society chapter, community colleges, nature parks, or state, county, or city park services. I learned a lot of what I know about bird and tree identification from classes taken from the Portland Audubon Society.

If you enjoy taking pictures, you could print out your photos and use them in your journal. If you like to write poetry, you could write poems about what you see around you. Mary Oliver’s poetry is a great example of what beauty can come from observing the world around you and writing poetry about it.

Sketching and painting what you see is also a great way to learn more about what you are observing. To draw something, you have to really look at it. Even if you don’t consider yourself an artist or like your finished product, sketching something will help you see it more clearly. You can color your sketches with watercolor (be sure to use a waterproof pen to sketch if you plan to use watercolor) or colored pencil, or leave them uncolored.

Here I did some very rough sketching, more to focus on the details of what I was looking at rather than to make an artistic drawing. I used watercolor pencils to color the drawings.

Sometimes if I’m feeling ambitious, I will do more sketching and painting in my journal. This was done in ink and watercolor.

You could also choose to focus on something specific in your nature journal, perhaps noting only the weather, the birds that come and go at your feeders, or the changes in the trees in your neighborhood. Or you might focus your journal on a specific location, like your backyard, or a local park that you visit regularly.

On this page I focused on the mountains that I could see from this location.

Taking a few minutes on a regular basis to make a note of what you see around you will help you begin to feel like a part of the land you live on. Before long, the trees, birds, plants, and animals that you observe will begin to feel like old friends. You’ll make note of when the trees leaf out in the spring, when they produce seeds, when the last leaf falls in autumn. You’ll know which birds are at your feeders at different times of year, and when you usually see them feeding their young in the spring or early summer. I have found nature journaling to be a significant part of feeling connected to the world around me.

Happy journaling!

Resources:

Journal: My favorite notebook for nature journaling is Aquabee Super Deluxe Sketchbook in the 9×6 size, which gives me plenty of room to work, while still being portable. It handles watercolor well, but the paper is also smooth enough for writing comfortably. However, a plain old spiral notebook or composition book will work just as well if you don’t plan to use watercolorโ€”don’t worry about finding the “perfect” notebook, just use what you have to get started.

Keeping a Nature Journal, by Clare Walker Leslie & Charles E. Roth – This was the first book I got about nature journaling, and it is still one of my favorites. It covers anything you might want to know about nature journaling, including some drawing exercises. She mostly works in ink or pencil with some colored pencil.

A Pacific Northwest Nature Sketchbook, by Jude Siegel – In spite of “Pacific Northwest” in the title, this book would be wonderful no matter where you live. It looks like it is out of print, but it is worth tracking down a copy. If you are interested in ink and watercolor nature journaling, this book covers almost everything you’ll need to know.

An Autumn Afternoon by the River

It has been way too long since I spent time nature journaling outdoors, so I took advantage of the gorgeous day yesterday to do some sketching down by the river. I wasn’t really focused on making a beautifully composed page, but was just having fun drawing and painting whatever caught my attention.

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Sketching by the river

There was a flock of Canada Geese paddling and feeding on the river. Drawing something that never stops moving is always a challenge, so some geese came out better than others. Then some honeysuckle berries caught my eye. They are translucent red and were literally glowing in the sunโ€”so beautiful!

I found the wild grape leaf on the ground near where I was sitting. Normally they just turn yellow in the fall, but this one was gorgeous in shades of gold, orange and magenta. A teeny-tiny spider marched across the table while I was sketching, so I added her in, too.

I saw a Pileated Woodpecker, which is the first time I have seen one in this area. They are always exciting to see with their magnificent red crests!

The sun was warm, there was a soft breeze, the river was splashing and singing as it flowed over the rocks, and I heard several large splashes in the waterโ€”could it be salmon coming home to spawn? It was a beautiful time to enjoy the world around me and forget about worry, and cancer, and the election (oh my goddess, the election!!!) for a while. A much-needed time out.

I wish you gorgeous autumn afternoons full of sunshine and peace, and maybe even a little sketching!

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The final page

(P.S. I just realized I dated my page wrong! It should have been the Oct. 9. Oops! I’ll have to fix that.)