Friday, August 26, 2016

Can Keeping a Nature Journal bring Natural History Back from the Brink of Extinction?

In June 2014, Jennifer Frazer wrote an article in Scientific American called Natural History is Dying, and We Are All the Losers. That article has once again been making its way around Facebook, in groups dedicated to nature journalers, naturalists and other involved in environmental issues. Its garnered a lot of attention and many comments.

There's been much discussion, and lamenting of the state of affairs that Frazer points out. 

Her article opens with this sobering insight, "In other words, the people society depends on to know the most about life -- people with college biology degrees -- in nearly all cases have no obligation to learn anything about actual living organisms. To me, this is a shocking dereliction."

She goes on to point out a number of other disquieting facts about the stigma of "natural history" within the scientific and academic communities and notes that "Natural History [flourished in the 18th and 19th centuries], when Linnaeus, Darwin, and even U.S. Presidents Washington, Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt were avid and avowed naturalists. It was a time when basic knowledge of local plants and animals was considered part of a good education -- and of being a good citizen" (emphasis mine). 

Frazer tells us that the enthusiasm for nature study and natural history encompassed schoolchildren as well, noting that between 1890 and 1940 books such as....Anna Botsford Comstock's, Handbook of Nature-Study  were an essential part of classrooms across America. 

I believe that keeping a nature journal has now become a very important part of creating a culture that values nature. In fact, I might go so far as to say that acquiring a basic knowledge of local plants and animals makes us better citizens, global citizens as well as local citizens, who will act, engage and vote with environmental concerns in mind. It may also be a practice that rescues natural history from the dust bin in the university basement. 

Years ago when my children were young I home educated them and nature study was a big part of our lives. We had Anna Comstock's book mentioned above, and we were heavily influenced by the 19th century educational philosopher and practitioner Charlotte Mason, who advocated nature study as an essential part of a child's education. In fact it was during those years that I  began keeping my own nature journals, (badly at first, but with much joy). 

Our children are our future, and the best hope for the future of our planet, and because I think that keeping a nature journal is such an easy, enjoyable but important way to develop a knowledge, love and appreciation for nature in both adults and children I have invited Lynn Seddon, author of Exploring Nature with Children, to write a guest post responding to Frazer's observations and expounding on her own experiences as a Charlotte Mason home educator in the UK. 

Lynn's post will be published on Thursday September 1, 2016 and I hope you will check back to read it. 

Click HERE for a free nature journaling mini-class, and stay tuned for my upcoming online course Beginning a Nature Journal: creating lively sketches of the natural world coming in spring 2017

Saturday, July 9, 2016

7 Steps to Creating a Nature Journal Page Layout

click image to enlarge

(Excited about starting a nature journal? Looking for the sign up for my free video mini class ? It's right HERE... but it will be gone soon. We're getting closer to the launch of my brand new on line class Beginning a Nature journal: creating lively sketches of the natural world, and  the free mini class will be retired. But don't worry there will be other free goodies to take it's place. Just make sure you're on my mailing list so you don't miss any! Get on my mailing list and get the free mini class HERE.)

Very often I get questions about how I design the layout of my nature journal pages.

People want to know how I:

  • organize the sketches
  • break up the space
  • add blocks of text
  • where to add lettering. 

The most frequent question is  "Do you plan the layout first? "

The answer is No. Like so much of nature journaling, everything happens organically in response to what's happening out there in living, breathing, moving, changing nature. 

The next question usually is "Do you do all of the graphic elements (borders, lettering etc.) in the field or later on at home?"

The answer is Both.

In the video you can see the progression and then read detailed step by step explanations below. 

Using the journal entry above I'm going to walk you through the whole process of how this page evolved. 

It began in the early morning with a group of crows causing an enormous racket for the second day in a row. This was something new that I had not experienced on our street before. The day before I just heard them and didn't see them, and they were so loud and crazy sounding I was puzzled, and even unsure they actually were crows. The next day, the day of this journal entry, they were back and I watched them and listened to their racket for several minutes before they flew off. I had decided not to sketch them in favor of just observing something that was an unusual experience and new to me.

I headed out to my bench by the pond and entered my basic data for the day, date, time weather etc. and did a small landscape of the environment, and wrote just a line underneath.  That's the image below.

Step 2

 After establishing the scene I observed and sketched a green frog. 

This little guy had been hanging around my bench for several days and I sketched him each time I had an opportunity. 

I also wrote about him, right then on the spot. 

With the center of the sketchbook running right through the center of the landscape it seemed like a good idea to place the frog to one side of the page break. 

Step 3

My next sketching opportunity came when the cormorant arrived.

I observed and sketched and wrote, all right at that moment. Placing this sketch to the right of the page break created a sense of symmetry. 

That decision was made consciously, but in a fleeting moment, I didn't really spend any time at all thinking about it. Two small sketches beneath a larger rectangle seemed the logical thing to do. 

Step 4 

Later on in the evening I went out to the pond again and caught a glimpse of a very large snapping turtle. I sketched her and made the size notation and wrote a brief description. 

I also took a few moments to stand in front of the tree the crows were in to draw that and then added the crows from memory. On the spot, I added the caption A Murder of Crows. . The term "murder" has been used to describe a flock of crows as far back as the 15th century, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

So what you see above is basically the page spread naked, just what was done in the field without any embellishments. 

Step 5

Later on inside I evaluated the pages. 

Clearly I needed to fill up the large space on the left. It was too late in the evening for any more sketching to be done outside so that's where I decided to spend a few moments writing a reflection on the days events. 

I write in block printing to be able to create a fairly even block of text. 

Step 6 

The sketches are feeling like they're just floating on the page, so I decide to anchor the two I like best with a border. I choose a circle for the frog and a rectangle with lines that extend at the corners for the crows. 

Step 7

There's too much white space to the left of the landscape, and also too much white space at the bottom of the pages. Those are both good places for some hand lettering, done with a brush. It's fun to turn the sketchbook and write with larger hand lettering so that the text ends up being a vertical element, as I did with the words Mid-summer Trees

This is the most common way my nature journal pages develop. Sketching and some writing done on the spot and a bit of dressing up later on. So much is done intuitively. I am always trying to find a way to bring the page together as a cohesive whole. I want each element on the page to be in relationship to the others and connected in some way. That's why  I chose to have the circle and the border around the crows connect to the landscape sketch. The measurement line above the snapping turtle relates to the linear border around the crows, and the cormorant sketch is firmly locked between the frog and crows.

The principles involved here are

  • balance
  • unity
  • harmony
  • rhythm
If you keep those in mind you will create beautiful nature journal pages that are pleasing and visually organized. 

Free mini class sign up HERE

Friday, July 1, 2016

What Would Your Life Look Like if you kept a Nature Journal

  • Journey with me through eight months of nature journaling in the video below.
  • Are you ready to begin your own nature journal journey??  
  • Click HERE for a free Nature Journaling Mini Video Class to get you started. Enjoy! 

Nature Journal with Jan Blencowe from Jan Blencowe on Vimeo.
Note: Click on the 4 arrows icon between "HD and Vimeo"  in the lower right of the video box to watch full screen. Or click on the link directly under the video to watch on Vimeo. 

Q. What would it be like if you kept a nature journal from month to    month, year to year?

Q. What would you learn?

Q. How would you benefit?

Q. What would keep you going, consistently making entries?

A. Personally, I gain an awful lot, more than I ever imagined, and those benefits are precisely the things that keep me going. 

  • Nature journaling always fills me with a sense of wonder and amazement. On a daily basis I'm made mindful of the beauties of sunrises, wildflowers, snowflakes and clouds. I'm humbled in the face of storms, inspired at the ability of plants and animals that flourish and thrive in harsh conditions, and filled with hope when I witness the resilience, diversity and adaptability of nature. 

  • Through nature journaling I've acquired a deep sense of the natural rhythms of the earth and those have become reassuring, guiding elements in my life, providing a sense of belonging to the natural world, and a sense of being truly at home on our planet. 

  • The video above takes you with me through eight months of nature jounraling. The film begins in November towards the end of the season for outdoor nature journaling. You'll see sketches of snowstorms through the window, and yes, even some outdoor adventures in the snow. Winter is a perfect time to visit the natural history museum and sketch from the displays. There are zoo trips, and sketching from a local live stream owl cam in early spring as owlets hatch from their eggs. The snow thaws and it's outside once more. Spring brings new life and abundance and the long days of solstice time allow for unlimited nature journaling possibilities. 

  • Are you ready to begin your own nature journal journey??  
  • Click HERE for a free Nature Journaling Mini Video Class. Enjoy! 

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Top 5 Reasons YOU should be Keeping a Nature Journal

Excited and ready to begin? Click HERE for a Free Nature Journaling mini class video - Also don't miss the free downloadable guide to nature journaling, just click on the tab in the top left of the navigation bar above. 

Reason Number One: You’ll experience less stress, anxiety, and negativity

  • Nature journaling provides a way for you to encounter nature on a regular basis

  • The scientific community is now compiling evidence to support what so many of us intuitively know. Being in nature calms the mind and helps you feel less anxiety, stress and negativity.

  • David Strayer, of the University of Utah says ... we see changes in the brain and changes in the body that suggest we are physically and mentally healthier when we are interacting with nature.

Reason Number Two: You’ll be a kinder more ethical person

  • Time spent interacting with nature as you observe and journal has a positive impact on your behavior.

  • An experiment conducted by Paul Piff of the University of California, Irvine, and colleagues, in which participants staring up at a grove of very tall trees for as little as one minute experienced measurable increases in awe, and demonstrated more helpful behavior and approached moral dilemmas more ethically, than participants who spent the same amount of time looking up at a high building. “ - Yes! Magazine, Jill Suttie, Mar, 12, 2016

Reason Number Three: You’ll improve your ecoliteracy and your memory

  • Nature journaling helps you learn about the natural world and raises your ecoliteracy. Ecoliteracy is the ability to understand the natural systems that make life on earth possible, and to understand the principles that organize ecosystems. However, before you can do any of that, you need to be familiar with the plants, animals and minerals that make up the world around you, especially in your own backyard.  Lifelong learning is beautiful thing, keeping alive the sense of joy, wonder and curiosity we had when we were children. Keeping a nature journal is the perfect way to learn throughout life while forming a deeper connection with the natural world.

  • Keeping a nature journal will not only make you a lifelong learner, you’ll also be improving your memory. Research done by Dr. Marc Berman and partners at the University of Michigan shows that performance on memory and attention tests improved by 20% after study subjects took a pause for a walk through an arboretum.

Excited and ready to begin? Click HERE for a Free Nature Journaling mini class video

Reason Number Four: Your creativity will flourish

  • Recording observations in your nature journal of the the infinite variety and diversity in nature opens our minds to endless possibilities and attunes our senses towards natural beauty and harmony. We begin to creatively form connections and seek unique ways to express our growing awareness of what is beautiful and delightful around us in nature.

  • David Strayer, of the University of Utah indicates that the kind of brain activity seen when we’re spending time in nature is “ the kind of brain activity—sometimes referred to as the brain default network—that is tied to creative thinking.”

Reason Number Five: You’ll experience personal growth in heart and soul

  • Your nature journal becomes a container in which you can freely and safely delve deep into the mysteries of nature, the Source of creation and your connection to both. By simply taking time to be in nature, to listen, observe, rejoice and contemplate we put ourselves in touch with something much bigger than ourselves, and we capture that in our journals in words and images.

  • John P. Milton, in his book, Sky Above, Earth Below: Spiritual Practice in Nature writes, “Today, our modern world is filled with high-tech wonders. Our urban and suburban existence surrounds us with crowded, artificial environments of plastic, steel, concrete, and glass. Environmental toxins, high-stress lifestyles, devitalized food, loud noise, unnatural electromagnetic fields, and microwave radiation assail our cells and sensibilities. . .When we leave these tensions for a while to cultivate our natural wholeness in the wild, we are renewed with the fresh vitality and spirit of Nature. New pathways open for living in harmony with our communities and the Earth. We discover deep inspiration to help transform our lifestyles and our culture toward harmony and balance.”
  • Michael Hyatt, former Chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, sums it up nicely when he writes…”God created humans in the wild and placed us in a garden. We’re meant to live a substantial portion of our lives outdoors—and it’s a unique place to experience our Creator and restore our spirits. Nature is God’s reset button for our minds, bodies, and spirits. If you’re spending all day indoors, you’re missing the restorative power of nature.”

Excited and ready to begin? Click HERE for a Free Nature Journaling mini class video

click image to enlarge

Excited and ready to begin? Click HERE for a Free Nature Journaling mini class video

Thursday, May 26, 2016

3 Easy Ways to Begin Keeping a Nature Journal

Discovering and identifying a Common Yellow Throat
click to enlarge

3 Easy Ways to Begin Keeping a Nature Journal

#1  Find your Rhythm

No time? No problem!

The first myth about keeping a nature journal is that it must be done every day. It seems impossible to take time every day for sitting quietly in nature looking, listening and drawing. Yet, doesn't the idea of doing so whisper to your soul? 

Keeping an on going nature journal doesn't have to take a lot of time. Nature moves in cycles and tuning in to those cycles and using them as a template for your journal provides many easy ways to establish a practice that fits into your life.

Five Easy Rhythms to Follow

1.) Create just one journal page a month, focusing on things that capture the essence of that month, and you'll have a small, but beautiful nature journal that documents the changes in nature during the course of an entire year. 

2.) Journal just once a week and you'll fill a fifty page sketchbook in one year. Your book would be complete in just six months if you filled a two page spread once a week.

3.) If you went outside each evening for a few minutes and recorded the moon you would capture the entire cycle of the moon's waxing and waning in a single month.  

4.) Try quick sunrise and sunset studies like the example below. They're fast and easy!

5.) Create a grid of small boxes on your page and fill one each day with an simple, single object from nature, an acorn, a leaf, a pebble, a twig, a flower, etc.  You'll be amazed at how quickly this will go and how beautiful your page will look. 

Quick sunrise and sunset studies
click to enlarge

Excited and ready to begin? Click HERE for a Free Nature Journaling mini class video

#2 Get to know your own Backyard

The western mind set is besieged by dualistic thinking. Something is this, not that. We often make such a mistake when thinking about what is, and what isn't nature. In truth, nature is all there is. She is all around us at every turn, in the country or in the city, above our heads and beneath our feet she is all encompassing not "out there' somewhere. 

Your backyard, large or small is nature, and I guarantee you it's teaming with life. 

Here are 4 ways to create a splendid habitat right outside your door

  1. container gardens with flower varieties to attract pollinators 
  2. bird feeders (hummingbird feeders are wonderful!)
  3. bird baths, any shallow dish will do, add a rock or two for perches
  4. solar powered table top fountain (the sound of moving water will attract birds)  

It's all about Relationship

When your goal is to form a deeper relationship with nature the best place to start is the exact place that you inhabit. Get to know your own yard, the land you live on, or a local park. The closer your "sit spot" the better, as getting out there will be much less a chore and you'll be primed for success.

Take this Action Step: Start looking around your own yard or local park today.  Find your perfect place and claim it as you very own "sit spot", the term naturalists use for the location they will return to again and again to observe and record nature. 

My backyard provides habitat for native plants and animals
click to enlarge

#3 Master Drawing Skills (not Required !) 

Not knowing how to draw is actually one of the easiest obstacles to fix, and should not stop you from beginning a nature journal. The process of drawing is a cumulative one. The more you draw the better you will get.  Each tip, and technique you learn along the way will broaden your abilities and enhance your skill level.  Soon you'll have experience with many approaches, and techniques. You will be able to pick and choose what is most expressive and comfortable for you.

There are many clear, simple drawing exercises, as well as different approaches to drawing that will help you learn to process what you see and then translate that into lines and shapes on your paper.  Remember, a nature journal is a living document, something that's created on the spot, in the field. It's never meant to look like a photograph, a biological or botanical illustration  or even "fine art". Your sketches will be uniquely your own and filled with the life and vitality of the moment. 

New to sketching? Try this simple exercise.....

click to enlarge

The primary benefit of practicing any art , whether well or badly, is that it enables one’s soul to grow." ~ Kurt Vonnegut 20th C American writer

Click the image below to see how my own nature journals have progressed from 2002 to the present

Are you ready to experience a deeper connection to the natural world through nature journaling? 

I'd be honored to be your teacher and guide, journeying with you as you discover the beauty, joy, and soul nourishing practice of keeping a nature journal. 

To receive a free Nature Journaling Mini Class Video


**Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 2009