How to Nature Journal
Nature journaling can be done in many ways. There is no one correct way. The approach presented here is adapted from John Muir Laws. The steps below are a starting point for you to find a process that works best for you.
Arrive -- Observe -- Record -- Reflect -- Connect
Even if you are looking out of a window from your home, you need to bring your attention to the present moment and place. Have your paper or page and pencil in hand. Disconnect from social media. Turn off any music. Put your phone on vibrate. If you have GPS on your phone, switch it on. GPS information on photos means that they can be used for research purposes in citizen science projects.
You can be sitting or standing, but for this moment – let yourself be still.
Let wildlife adjust to your presence.
Slow down physically, mentally and emotionally.
Allow yourself to be quiet.
Relax. If you are feeling tense, think about each part of your body and let the muscles relax and soften.
Breathe in and out, slowly 5 to 10 times. It can help to think “calm in” on the in-breath and “stress out” on the out-breath.
Wherever you are, bring your attention to the place and the moment.
When a distraction comes to mind, recognise it as a distraction. Imagine yourself releasing it. Return to the present moment and place. A short form of this is: Recognise - Release - Return
Do this with any thoughts or worries from your daily life.
Writing down distractions can help you to be more attentive to the present moment. Also recording the date, time and place can help to focus you.
Focus on being present. Think about:
Where you are?
Who you are in this place?
What is the history of this place? Of people in this place?
If you have not done so, write the name of the place, the date and the time in your nature journal.
Now, with purpose and intentional curiosity, be attentive to the wonder around you.
Be open to inspiration, creativity, the unplanned and the unexpected. Be curious and expect wonder as you notice what is around you in this moment, in this place.
You may find a new or nature-rich environment overwhelming. There can be so many things to observe that it is difficult to focus on one aspect of your environment. In urbanised areas it can be difficult to observe nature as part of people dominated spaces. Getting your orientation and focus can be a challenge. Here are some tips to help you develop your observation skills.
Tip 1 Clarify your purpose:
What do you want to be doing during this session? Mostly walking, stretches of walking in-between longer periods of sitting or being in one spot?
What do you want to have in your nature journal? Notes for identifying species of wildlife? Colour, form, movement studies for further drawing or painting projects?
Do you have a specific interest? The habitat, location, wildlife?
Do you want to keep a record of wildlife, habitats, geological, historical or cultural features?
Do you want a record of special moments?
Tip 2 Ask these questions, using all of your senses:
“I notice…” What do you notice? What are you seeing? Hearing? Feeling? Smelling?
“I wonder…” What questions come to mind?
“It reminds me of …” What associations come to mind.
Tip 3 Try this process: Record your observations as you
Look all around.
Record, if you have not already recorded the weather conditions: temperature, cloud cover, amount of sun, rain, mist, frost. It is useful to include information about recent significant events such as recent rains, a long period of no rain, recent fire. This information gives context to your observations. It also helps you to focus on the present place and moment.
There are three ways of recording on paper:
Words – labels, descriptions, questions, your thoughts, stories, poetry
Numbers – counts, estimates, angles, measurements
Images – outlines, rubbings, diagrammes, sketches, painting with photos/video recording, symbols including musical or sound notations
Your content can be all text using only words, numbers and abbreviations.
Your content can be all images using symbols, drawings, diagrammes, or maps.
Your content can have numbers as measurements, counts, and estimates.
If you are most comfortable with words, explore what images can add to your process and product. Likewise, if you are most comfortable with images, try adding words such as labels and notes. Numbers are also fun and can increase the information density of your nature journal entries.
As a reminder of things to put on a page and ways of recording, download this summary of and tape it into your nature journal.
Your brain can only handle a limited amount of information. When you record your observations, you download your thoughts. This frees up space in your brain so more brain “bandwidth”. If you don’t download the information, you will recycle your thoughts, leading to rumination. This, in turn, leads your brain to splice in old and incorrect information.
When you free up space in your brain, you can think about what you have observed. You can do more complex thinking. You can think more deeply about your observations, thoughts and feelings. You can notice more, see patterns and connections, and ask more interesting questions.
Go between what’s on the page and thinking about what you recorded.
You look at what you have recorded.
Reflect on whether it is clear and complete.
Note what surprises you. Record additional questions that flow from the first questions.
What do you want to follow-up on: bird or plant identification? Questions that occurred to you? What is the geological and human history of a place?
Look for patterns and connections.
Try using titles, boxes and connectors to clarify your thoughts on the page.
You might want to add more information, colour, a story, or a map to your journal entry.
You can go between observing, recording and reviewing for each observation.
Observe -- Record -- Reflect
You can stop there. Close your notebook or pack away your paper until your next nature journaling session.
Or you can take it further - Continue or Connect ...
At home, work or school, use your nature journal entries as source material for other projects.
Your entries can provide inspiration for fiction and non-fiction writing, stories and associations from your childhood, poetry, essays, poems, drawing, painting, textiles, sculptures, musical composition, or any creative expression.
They can also contribute to:
Record of places
Species accounts and studies, including the wildlife and cultivated life in and around your home
Longer-term studies of the day and night skies with diaries of changes in moon, sun, planets and stars
Weather diaries - track the temperature, rainfall, cloud cover, wind patterns
Life, location-specific, monthly lists of birds and other animals, fungi, plants
Your own field guide, or field guides for different places
Data for citizen science projects
Now that you have a sense of what’s involved, you can make the next entries in your nature journal. Before going on outings, make sure that you are prepared.