Keeping a Nature Journal

Keeping a Nature Journal

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©2011 Shanna Lea (formerly Shanna Ohmes)

Nature Journaling is the creative process of recording the natural history around you from your own observations.  From my own person experience, I remember more details about plants and animals if I have sat down with them, observed all I can within a set time, and then draw and write from memory my impressions.    Each time I go back to the plant, I can pick out new details I didn’t notice before.


Why is it important to keep a nature journal?  Knowing the details of nature around you grounds you to your environment.  The more you observe, the more you will notice small changes in the ecology of your area.  Whether it’s your garden, your pasture, or the wilderness beyond your backyard, the more you intimately know your surroundings, the better you can adapt to changes.

For example—everyone knows what a dandelion looks like, right?  Are you sure?  Even dandelion has a look-a-like that can fool you if you are foraging for your wild salad.  If you don’t know what you are picking, this look-a-like can give you a stomachache.  Although this reaction would be mild, there are a lot of toxic look-a-like plants that can cause severe problems and even death.dandelion leaves and look-a-likes

Learning about your local wildlife is beneficial, interesting and fun.  Animals are creatures of habit, using the same trails often.  Record their tracks in your journal.  Learn tracking and you can read the story of a raccoon’s daily adventures.  Tracks tell us a lot of information about an animal:  gender, size, gait and behavior.  Tracking is a complex language, but well worth the “dirt time” when you become attuned to the animal and its story.

How do I keep a Nature Journal?  Nature journaling can be as simple or as involved as you want.  Nature journaling connects you to all of nature that surrounds you, so it is entirely up to you how you want to create your journal.  Even if you can’t get out in Nature, you can record each day, each season, through your window.

Take your journal, notebook or paper—whichever medium you enjoy working with—and record what’s around you.

Here are some ways that ordinary people, naturalists, and those in professional fields use to record their observations of the natural world:

  • Poetry or prose
  • Drawing—pencil, charcoal…
  • Painting
  • Photography
  • Tape recordings
  • Musical notation
  • Quotes from naturalists

What to record:

  • What birds do you see?  What hours of the day are they active?
  • Count and identify insects in a given space—a square yard of garden, field or pasture.
  • Press flowers and leaves in the pages to observe after they’ve dried.
  • Collect plant matter, shells, pine cones and other small collectibles you find and incorporate them as art in your journal.
  • Track the weather
  • Keep track of the moon-phases
  • Write down your inspirations, lines of poetry that come to you, or music that you are inspired to write.
  • Write down what you observe and how it relates to what is going on in your life.  Nature is a great mirror, reflecting back to us what we need to hear.
  • Use your observations as a meditation focus or for personal healing.
  • Draw a dead bird you find.  Even in a creature’s death, we can learn about its story and attune more to the cycles of life.
  • After journaling, find field guides and other books to learn more about what you have observed.

It doesn’t matter what tools you choose to use—pens, pencils, markers, paints—just go out and look around.

And ask yourself:

What is happening?

Right Now?


This Moment?

This Season?

Right where I live?




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