Why Do We Nature Journal?

House Sparrow Nature Journal

I remember the first time I went on a hike with my friends. It was a cold December day and I was packed with lots of water and snacks, ready to get a great workout in! Little did I know what I was in for.

Hiking with toddlers is at a snails pace. My children were older and the baby was in the ergo carrier but the pace of the group was significantly slowed by the little ones.

Well no matter…we can still make up the calories by the length! Walking is still great exercise!

It was at about that moment that all my friends sat down! Together — in a group. All of them simultaneously reaching into their packs to pull out something. Journals. Colored pencils. Watercolors.

What in the world?! What is going on!

It was then I realized they were doing this “thing.” This thing called “nature journaling.” Where you sit down and look at nature and recreate it in your journal. Just watching them made me bored.

Why would anyone waste a perfectly good hike to sit down and color? This is why we have expensive iphone cameras with portrait settings! I can take an amazing picture of the same thing in 1/100th the time!

Needless to say we did not go nearly as far as I thought we would and I felt guilty even eating the snacks I brought because we certainly didn’t burn enough calories to justify them!

By the third or fourth hike I finally gave in and purchased my kids some sketchbooks so they would have something to do during this nature journaling time. But I wouldn’t give in. I was not going to color. The other mothers could color but I certainly was not going to. Coloring is for children. I’ll just go ahead and snap a picture!

My Epiphany

Fast forward to two years later and I still hadn’t nature journaled. But, I was beginning to become more aware of nature. In ways I hadn’t ever done before. I was starting to slow down and notice colors and sights and sounds. It was a slow transformation.

One Saturday I pulled out an extra journal. I had been aware of this extra journal for some time and I kept thinking maybe I’d like it to be mine. Maybe I’d like it to be a sort of passport – documenting where I’d been and what I’d seen. As a girl I always had diaries. I loved doing that–maybe I would not. In fact, there was a time I loved watercolors and would have even called myself an artist. But gone were those days. Free moments of artistic endeavors were replaced with dirty laundry and breastfeeding.

But did it have to be? I still have free moments. I still go on instagram…much too much. Perhaps…perhaps I might try again.

So the day after a long walk through the neighborhood and discovering Love Birds (they look like a brightly colored parakeet) I told the kids we were setting a new habit – nature journaling and Bible time before Saturday morning cartoons. Gotta do both or else no cartoons!

I sat down and got out my new journal. And I just made a rough sketch. And I liked it. It looked pretty good. I mean it actually looked like the bird! I had to recall and focus and remember and sketch (and resketch) until I got it quite right. On the opposite page I wrote all I knew and saw. I wrote the date and the location of the siting. It was a real journal entry. I say that because some people fill their nature journal will lots of art and minimal words but I wanted it to have a bit of a pattern. So the left page (which is the back of a watercolor page) is always my journal entry and the right side is always the watercolor entry. So it’s a two page spread.

Paradise Valley Love Bird in a Saguaro Cactus Nature Journal Entry
My first nature journal entry – Rosy Faced Love Bird in a Saguaro Cactus

I loved how it turned out! It was relaxing and fun. I loved how the watercolors blended together. They made it look even more artistic than I had imagined. They took on a life of their own. I loved it. And I had a memory. A tangible memory. One that took time, and patience, and attention. It was not fast or simple. It took diligence and effort–just like Latin or Greek or anything we learn classically. A throwback to the day when skills were developed and mastered.

And in no time at all I got better and better. My eyes and senses become even more accustomed to noticing details. Every plant and flower that normally I would have taken for granted was now a thing of interest! Because of my conditioning from growing up–the wonder of nature had very little interest to me. I was more interested in the things of man. But nature journaling awoke inside of me the wonder and awe of God’s majesty in creation.

My art got better too. Quickly I could see improvement (see images below in order of when I made them). Instead of a rough sketch with a little paint it became more and more detailed.

I hope you will give nature journaling a try too!

All you need is:

Mountain Bluebird Nature Journal Entry
Mountain Bluebird
Woodhouse's Scrub Jay from Flagstaff, AZ Nature Journal Entry
Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay from Flagstaff, AZ
Stellar's Jay - Flagstaff, AZ Nature Journal Entry
Stellar’s Jay – Flagstaff, AZ
Great Blue Heron Nature Journal Entry
Great Blue Heron and Great Egret
Exploring the Verde River, Rio Verde, AZ
Exploring the Verde River, Rio Verde, AZ
Arizona Cactus Wren Paradise Valley, AZ
Cactus Wren at our home in Paradise Valley, AZ

Curriculum Mentioned:

Memoria Press Nature Journal

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