Continuing on with our PA Master Naturalist Guest Blogs, John McGlaughlin discusses nature journaling.
Well, here we are, a few weeks into the Naturalist program and the work is rolling in! One of our weekly at-home assignments is to keep a nature journal. Hmm, I initially thought, what good can come of this? I haven’t kept a journal since 3rd grade when I wrote about important things like what color eye-mask I would wear if I were one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. My initial reservations with this assignment’s purpose were eventually subdued after reminding myself that as naturalists we are encouraged to explore, observe and reflect on the natural world. What better way to synthesize these 3 tasks then by keeping a nature journal?!
The art of nature journaling has been around for a while. Pliny the Elder put together a mean nature journal in ‘Naturalis Historia’ a few thousand years ago where he collected all the natural phenomena of his day that he could find. And the tradition continued into the modern era with authors like John Muir, Rachel Carson and Aldo Leopold all keeping nature journals that are thought to contain some of the most important ecological writing of the 20th century. And then there’s me to carry on the torch.
So where to begin? Us naturalists-in-training were informed that a good way to start a nature journal is by selecting a special ‘nature spot’ outside that you can visit regularly in order to expand your sensitivity to and familiarity with nature. Then after your nature spot’s all mapped out you need to ‘get in the zone’ by sharpening your five senses to tune in with the natural world. Finally, once your nature mojo is flowing, you need to make careful observations of your nature spot, reflect upon those observations and finally record them in your trusty nature journal… easy enough!
Each week we’re assigned a different way of experiencing our nature spot to broaden and enrich our nature journaling. For example, previous assignments included wearing a blindfold at our natural spot to alter the typical optical-centric perspective of the environment. Another week we were directed to look for evidence of the water cycle in action and to visualize the changes our nature spot undergoes during each part of the cycle.
This past week we were charged with visiting our nature spot to observe the variety of species living there, with the specific task of identifying the producers, consumers and decomposers. For those in need of a brush-up in science-speak, producers make their own food, consumers feed on producers or other consumers, and decomposers eat and break down dead producers/consumers/decomposers. I brought my camera along for this assignment to provide a video log of my experience. See ya next time!