“And, most important of all," added the Mathemagician,
"here is your own magic staff.
Use it well and there is nothing it cannot do for you."
He placed in Milo's breast pocket a small gleaming pencil which,
except for the size, was much like his own.”
Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth
Nature journaling is an all round tool, like reading. You can use it in your personal and professional life, and programmatically such as in educational programmes. Personal nature journaling develops a foundation for nature journaling professionally and programmatically. You can develop your awareness of the world around you, your understanding of yourself and your sense of self and identity in different contexts.
Nature journaling can be traced to the beginning of humankind to ancestors of the San peoples with rock art. The meaning and methods people use have changed over time, but the importance of recording experiences and exploring our connection with nature remains to the present day.
Nature journals are an essential part of professional scientific fieldwork. They can be public and sometimes legal records. This approach relies on working with others, within fixed protocols, using data collection sheets. It is likely to be some form of the Grinnell Method, named for its creator, field scientist John Grinnell. If you are contributing as a citizen scientist, you may need to record observations in this way.
Donna L. Long, an environmental educator, explains the Grinnell Method in a blog post here. She has also written a book, “The Grinnell Scientific Nature Journal for Scientists, Citizen Scientists, and Nature Journal Keepers” which is an up-to-date guide to this classic approach. The contents of her book also include personal nature journaling, phenology (the relationship between climate and life cycles of plants or animals), plant and animal ethograms (life histories), citizen science, and introduces “seasonal rounds”. She notes that seasonal rounds combine “... following the seasons, harvesting and foraging, phases of the sun, moon and stars, and human celebrations.” She gives instructions on how to make one of any size, plus her locally-specific (North-eastern North America) information resources.
The classic writing on Grinnell method is “The Naturalist’s Field Journal: A Manual of Instruction Based on a System Established by Joseph Grinnell” by Steven G. Herman, 1980. Although it is out-of-print, Mr Herman has copies available. His contact details are available from Donna L. Long.
In the introduction to “Field Notes on Science & Nature”, Michael R. Canfield points out that
“The value of taking field notes lies both
in the actual information that is recorded as well as
what is gained in the process of recording itself.”
This holds true across disciplines as diverse as geology, astronomy, ornithology (study of birds), entomology (study of insects), ecology, palaeontology (study of life in the geologic past), anthropology, botany and animal behaviour. The field notes shared by professional naturalists can inform and inspire amateur naturalists.
Scientific illustrators and other professional artists and writers also use field notes. Scientific illustration, such as botanical illustration, is an essential part of scientific communication and understanding. Sibonelo Chiliza is a South African botanical artist who excels in this discipline. He has been interviewed in English. Here is his story, in his own words, in his first language, as a message to isiZulu first language speakers interested in nature journaling.
"Ngizalwe ngakhulela esigodini saseMathulini endaweni yase Mthwalume, Ogwini. Ngikhule ngingumntwana ohlala edweba, bengidweba izindonga zezindlu zase Khaya,ngidweba izindonga esikoleni sami samabanga aphansi eGobhela Primary. Ngidlulele KwaFica High lapho ngiqhubeke khona ukudweba ngesikhathi sami ngoba izifundo zobuciko bezandla bezingekho ohlwini lwezifundo zesikole. Ngiqede umatikuletsheni KwaFica High ngayofundela zifundo zokuhlobisa indwangu eTechnikon Natal, nokwathe ngonyaka wami wesibili kwafika ugogo uMrs Powell ebuya kwinhlangano yabadwebi bezitshalo zendabuko. Ugogo uPowell wathatha ikilasi lonke waliyisa eDurban Botanic Gardens ukuyodweba izihlahla khona.
Eyami imidwebo yaba mihle ukwedlula yonke yabafundi, yabe isithathwa
ukuyosetshenziswa ezikhwameni ezilengiswayo nakumaphinifo okupheka.
Ngabe sengihlangana nabantu abaningi eBAASA ukubala uElsa Pooly nababe
sebengihlanganisa ne Durban Herbarium lapho ngidweba imidwebo esetshenziswa
wososayensi uma benza ucwaningo lwabo.
Ukusuka eDurban Herbarium ngibe sengidlulela eSANBI ePretoria Botanic Gardens.
Uthando lwami lwemvelo lube seluyaqina ngoba ukudweba kwami izihlahla zendabukokungisondeze kakhulu nemvelo. Phambilini uma ngibuka isihlahla bengibona izinkuni nje, kanti izimbali ngangicabanga ukuthi ziyimihlobiso kanti zinika izinyosi impilo ende ziqinisekise ukuthi izinyosi ziphile iminyaka ngeminyaka. Ukudweba kwami izihlahla zendabuko kunguvulele amathuba amaningi kwaphinde kwangihlanganisa nabantu ababalulekile emphakathini. Kanti izithombe zami zemidwebo zazuza izindondo ezintathu, zethusi ezimbili kaynye neyodwa yesiliva. Ngiyaqhubeka ke nokudweba izitshalo zendabuko ukuze ngihlale njalo ngisondelene nemvelo."
Personal nature journaling provides a place to explore many approaches and styles.
Try nature journaling from a different perspective. Pretend to be an engineer, sculptor, musician, or detective. What would be important to you? What mindset would you have? What tools would you use? Explore more ideas here.
This list is a sample of styles to inspire your imagination or to focus your attention. You might want to try more than one!
Your nature journaling style can range from:
Simple to complex
Expressive and impressionistic to precise and detailed
Abstract and fantasy to realistic
Doodles to poetry
Storyboards to sketchnoting
You can include comics from cartoons to manga to minimalist to stick figures.
Check out Randall Munroe's comic xkcd for his brilliant use of stick figures.
With any one of these approaches, you can use just words, images, numbers or other symbols.
Nature journaling works well in many types of programmes, including in home- and public schools settings, for people of all ages and all descriptions. Through the resources below, you can benefit from expert experience, materials and guidance on how to include nature journaling in a wide variety of programmes.
“How to Teach Nature Journaling: Curiosity, Wonder, Attention" John Muir Laws and Emilie Lygren March 2020. It is available as a free download during the pandemic lockdown/shelter at home from either authors' website John Muir Laws or Emilie Lygren
(Better Environmental Education, Teaching and Learning Expertise Sharing)
What to see some nature journal pages?
For inspiration visit