Are you excited to open your eyes to the incredible world of plants, trees & birds living around you?
That’s exactly what I wanted ten years ago when I started my quest towards exploring & reading the patterns of nature on a very deep level.
Luckily I had an easy tool to help me quickly unravel the mysteries of local forests, fields & wildlife hotspots. Can you guess what it is?
Yep, it’s my good old nature journal!
If you don’t currently have a nature journal then you’re missing out on one of the best ways to discover the riches of nature.
Nature journaling is a treasure of insight and information. It will help you identify environmental patterns and improve your observation skills.
So in this article I’m going to share some easy tips & tricks for how to keep a nature journal so you can make the most of your outdoor adventures.
Getting Started With Journaling
First things first, some words of advice…
I always suggest to keep a dedicated notebook for the purpose of recording your observations. This could be as simple as a standard coiled notebook with blank or lined paper.
Use whatever paper or journal works best for you, but it’s a good idea to use this notebook only for nature-related things.
Giving nature it’s own journal will help motivate you to fill the pages with interesting stories & sketches. It will also hold you accountable if the pages stay blank for too long.
Eventually you’ll have all your observations and experiences in one place so you can look back and see all you’ve learned.
Now that you have your dedicated nature journal ready to go, how can you now use it to get outside and explore?
What If I’m Not Artistic?
I know from experience that a lot of beginners worry about whether their journals are good enough.
- Does a nature journal need to be artistic?
- What if I’m not a good drawer?
- What if I have ugly notes scribbled all over?
- What if I can’t spell words correctly?
- So here’s the most important thing I’ve learned about the process of nature journaling…
It’s not about making something beautiful… It’s about exploring nature!
Sometimes people stop themselves from ever making a nature journal simply because they lack artistic skills. Here’s my advice.
Don’t let that stop you!
I’m not an artist (as friends and family will confirm), but I’ve been journaling to enhance my nature experiences for years with great success.
The most important thing is to do what works for you. As long as you keep the focus on nature then you’re doing great.
What Should I Put In My Nature Journal?
There really are so many different ways to do a nature journal.
Some people might use their journals primarily for sketching & drawing pictures to record the different plants & trees in their ecosystem.
Others like myself prefer to write stories and detailed descriptions of what you see, hear & experience while sitting or walking outside.
The reason nature journaling works is because it helps you look more closely at your surroundings.
When you sketch a plant… it helps you look more closely.
When you draw a map… it helps you look more closely.
When you write observations of birds… it helps you look more closely.
You should just do whatever seems easy, fun and exciting.
- What are some interesting plants & trees you could sketch?
- Can you draw a map of the places you explore?
- Can you describe the activities of birds & mammals you encounter on your outings?
That’s all it takes to get started and start recording some really cool things happening outside.
Tips For Sketching Successfully
Let me just start out by saying I am not a great sketcher… Actually I’m a pretty horrible sketcher, but I still do it sometimes.
So why bother if I’m not a good sketcher? There’s actually a very good reason!
I’ve learned that it really doesn’t matter how good you are at sketcher. It only matters whether you do it or not.
Even if my sketches might look terrible to most people… I know the process helps me notice things I wouldn’t otherwise notice.
Some people might sketch for the purpose of creating art for displaying and showing off. That’s cool. I’m always amazed when people can replicate a visual scene like that.
But that’s not why I do sketching.
I sketch because it helps me look closer. I’ve noticed that I can see flowers and plant patterns more clearly after trying to sketching them.
My sketches almost never turn out looking like the actual thing I was trying to sketch, but in the process of trying… I’m forcing myself to look closer, and that’s the key.
Here’s a cool exercise to try out:
- Choose something to sketch and study it carefully for a minute or so
- Close your eyes and picture it in your mind as vividly as you can
- Open your eyes and study it again taking in more details. Repeat these steps a few times until your mental image is very clear
- Now try sketching
I add on another step that includes writing down a written description of visual characteristics before trying to picture it in my mind.
Putting the image into words helps me create the mental image so I can recreate it on paper, so maybe it will work for you too
How To Write About Nature
There’s an amazing art and science to writing about nature.
I like to say that the name of the game here is description. You want to get good at paying attention to what kind of language you use.
You’ll notice that some words are very descriptive and sensory based while other words are much more vague and abstract.
Here’s an example of a sensory description…
I was walking outside by the broccoli plants when I noticed there were a lot of bees buzzing around. I looked around to see what was attracting them when I saw the lavender in bloom. The lavender seems more vibrant this year compared to previous years. It’s been a very dry and hot summer.”
Notice that each sentence evokes vivid images and mental pictures. You can almost see the same thing that I saw.
But people don’t always write this way. Sometimes I read other people’s journals and it says nothing about what was happening in nature. It tells me they weren’t really paying attention.
Here’s an example of abstract and vague writing…
I was outside and feeling amazed at how the season is progressing. It was beautiful and relaxing. I became curious about various things that were happening. I feel like I’m connecting more deeply and it’s really fun.”
See the difference?
There’s nothing wrong with writing and reflecting about how you feel in nature… Just don’t ignore your senses!
The more sensory detail you can include the better because it helps you stay present to your surroundings.
It’s often in writing about the sensory specific details of an experience that you’ll have the really big aha moments about things like animal behaviour, or cycles of seasons and weather.
If you want. I created a nature journaling program that’s will help you have deeper insights about nature and improve your memory
If you want to get better at having insights about nature through journaling then you might want to check out my nature memory journal program.
It’s a cool journaling template that asks you questions to draw out descriptive insights and make new outdoor discoveries.
And speaking of questions…
Questions Are Powerful!
No nature journal is complete without great questions.
Questions are powerful! They direct your mind in new directions. They help you see connections and relationships between otherwise unrelated events, and they stoke the fire of curiosity.
So I always suggest that along with sketching and writing… keep track of any questions you have about plants, birds, trees, etc. even if you don’t yet know the answer.
Some questions are easy to answer with field guides and a bit of investigation, while other questions might never be solved.
Yet being curious and willing to ask lots of questions is still one of the keys to going very deep on your naturalist journey.