This article was written (and illustrated!) by Courtney Lafleur, Senior Park Secretary at Murphys Point Provincial Park.
Time spent in nature can have a profound and lasting positive effect on our physical and mental health, and journaling has long been heralded for its own health benefits. Put them together and you have a nature journal; an activity that inspires creativity, mindfulness and connectivity with nature.
In simplest terms, nature journaling is about observing the natural world around you and recording your thoughts and observations. You don’t need much to get started, just a sheet of paper and something to write on.
Good advice: Try to avoid buying expensive, fancy notebooks and pens until you know what type of journal is right for you. Once you get started, you’ll most likely find a style of your own and then you can decide what additional supplies you need (if any).
The best thing about keeping a nature journal is that you can tailor it to suit you.
Get familiar with the nature diary
- Start with the date, time and location. Feel free to add things like weather and wind conditions, who you’re with, or any other details you think are important.
- Look around you, what catches your attention? Maybe there is a fresh mushroom on the ground. Make a quick sketch of it, noting the color, size and any interesting features. If you know what type it is, write it down too or look it up later in a guide.
- Try drawing the same thing several times., putting various levels of detail. Not all sketches need to be perfected. By experimenting with how much time you spend drawing, you’ll learn which details are most important to include and how to capture them effectively.
- Experiment with media. Try different papers, pads and notebooks. If you like writing, try lined paper. If you are an artist, a sketchbook may be perfect. Try pens, pencils, watercolors, inks, and markers. What does your mushroom look like as an ink drawing versus colored pencil?
- Take your journal with you. Practice makes perfect, so keep your journal handy and add to it as often as possible. Make your “nature time” a priority
- Check out programs in your area. Many parks and educational networks run nature journaling programs. There are also many great resources online.
For those seeking calm
If you are using your time in nature to focus on healing, meditation, or mental health, writing poems and thoughts in your journal may be helpful. Take a look around you and record what you see, hear, feel and smell.
Focus on how these things affect you and make you feel. Maybe you hear loons in the distance and it reminds you of a childhood memory, write it down.
For the scientist
Nature journals have long been used in the scientific community to detail accurate findings and observations. If you’re a scientist at heart, why not include things like latitude and longitude, soil temperature vs. air temperature, and technical drawings with detailed notes?
You may find it helpful to have things like a good ruler, magnifying glass, compass, and other similar tools on hand. Try tracking the growth of a plant over time or the cycle of a butterfly.
For the artist
Artistically inclined people may find drawing and watercolor come naturally and can use a nature journal to practice realism and observation skills.
Try playing with shadows and highlights, perhaps detailing the same plant or landscape at different times of the day or in different seasons. Does the change in light change the color of the plant? What about the texture? Try to get those little details.
For the Bullet Journal Addict
A journal is where you can keep your to-do lists, agenda, wish list, etc. And there are many great posts for those looking to add some nature to their bullet journal.
Why not try creating a bird checklist? Or a wish list of Ontario parks? Keep track of your daily nature observations along with your to-do list. Add a few pages for quick sketches, like a tree you see during your lunch break or an insect in your backyard.
Are you already inspired?
- Try following the sunrise and sunset for a week
- Follow and draw the phases of the moon or the constellations.
- Create a complete log of your favorite hiking route, detailing as much as possible.
- Compare two different species, such as white and red pine.
- Take out a magnifying glass and get close to something small
- Take a photo and stick it in your journal if you’re short on time (or artistic ability).
- Rub a plant (*remember: never pick up or damage natural objects in provincial parks)
- Try group journaling. How do different people see the same flower?
- Look at the same scene from different angles or distances. What’s in the foreground, in front of the tree line, or in the distance?
For more inspiration, visit johnmuirlaws.com and Keep a nature journal by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth.
Don’t put limits on what you can and can’t do when journaling. Remember that it is your journal and your time to connect with nature.