The Five Paths to Nature Journaling

A nature journal can be a record of a journey; but it can also be a journey in itself.

With the use of creative prompts, activities, and tools, the nature journal can be become your tour guide, shepherding you through deeper interactions with wild places. Many people think of a nature journal as a place to record their observations and thoughts while in nature. However, a journal can be a platform for fully immersing yourself in a place and engaging all your senses. The nature journal can be an invitation to play, as you hunt for shapes, take photographs with your imagination, and map out the micro world under your footprint. This journey also extends beyond the here and now, reaching back to the past and forward toward the “what ifs” of the future. The journaling journey may inspire you to shed your human eyes and “try on” a pair of animal eyes. What is your experience in this place as a dragonfly or coyote? A snake or a hawk? Each venture into nature, each journaling session, each blank page is the beginning of a creative journey.

Years ago, I was invited to teach a two-day nature journaling workshop to a group of elementary school teachers and their students. The site of the workshop couldn’t have been more lovely. Wild Thyme Farm (near Olympia, WA) provided woods, meadows, gardens, pastures, and fields for our wanderings and wonderings. As I planned the workshop, I developed the idea of there being different paths toward nature journaling. These five paths provide a variety of entry points to the blank page. A journaling session could sample an activity from all five pathways, or just focus on one. For our workshop, I guided participants through all five paths, creating a journey as we moved from awareness and observational activities to shift from our “city eyes” to our “nature eyes” and open ourselves to the experience of journaling in the wild, through reflection and expression activities that helped us make meaning from our experience together.

Kids drawing in their nature journals at Wild Thyme Farm

These five paths are described below and will be expanded in future blog posts.

A Path to Awareness

This pathway includes activities and prompts that encourages the body and mind to slow down, open up, and take notice. It includes games like “camera,” color and shape hunts, and touch exercises.

A Path to Drawing

Once the mind is stilled and eyes are opened, drawing activities can be introduced. This includes practicing field sketching techniques for subjects that rarely hold still (like birds or bugs), such as gesture sketches, as well as creative drawing activities like contour drawing, zoom sketches, and thumbnail mini-masterpieces.

A Path to Observing

This pathway engages the scientific mind, encouraging data collection and scientific notation. Activities include making leaf and bark rubbings, pressing plants, and taking soil/sand samples.

A Path to Remembering

Maps are powerful memory tools. They allow us to record information in a highly accessible–and pleasing–graphic format. In this pathway, maps are used as tools for remembering a place or an experience, including: event maps, sound maps, landscape maps, and micro-treasure maps. Along this pathway, I often encourage people to create fantastic nature art sculptures (a la Andy Goldsworthy) as a way to remember and pay homage to a special natural place.

A Path to Expressing

Writing in the nature journal can be used to record data and observations; it can also go deeper as a tool for reflection and expression. This pathway includes writing prompts, such as free write, animal eyes haiku, and postcard to myself.

A sixth pathway is also worthy of mention: A Path to the Classroom. For classroom teachers and nature educators, the nature journal can be a powerful tool for engaging students in exploration and reflection, as well as a place to play and practice with their writing and drawing skills. When I conduct teacher trainings, we discuss how nature journaling can help meet their state and district standards, connect to their existing classroom curriculum, and serve as assessment opportunities.

 

Nature journaling offers a journey among moss and ferns, soil and roots. It is not just a place to write down what you see; instead, it is a curator of your memories and a docent to your ramblings, both on and off the page.

 

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