Written By Jessica Alba.

Posted on October 23rd, 2018.

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I took out my journal and began to write. I started by describing my hike and my experiences, making sure to focus on my emotions and sensory observations.

As an environmental educator, it’s not unusual for me to be working outside. However, my summer internship at the Watershed Agricultural Council had me indoors most days, so when I found myself in need of an outdoor excursion, I decided to take a break from office life and spend an afternoon hiking some trails at the Leon Levy Preserve in Lewisboro, NY.

I didn’t want to go on just a hike, though, and while exploring MyWoodlot, I came across the idea of nature journaling. I’d never nature journaled before, but I enjoy both drawing and writing, so I thought it was worth trying. I armed myself with a hard-covered notebook, a pen, colored pencils, and an eraser. I also set three journaling goals to help get me started: write down my experience, draw my view, and learn something new.

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While hiking the eastern trails of the preserve, where the meadow meets the marsh, I found a wooden bench to rest on. I took out my journal and began to write. I started by describing my hike and my experiences, making sure to focus on my emotions and sensory observations. Then I drew my view of the trail that continued in front of me.

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Finally, I got up and walked down the path to where the ground got wetter. Back near my bench there were several kinds of grasses, bushes, and hardwood trees, but now I was surrounded by only a few different kinds of plants. The largest one was over 10 feet tall and practically covered the entire marsh. The most colorful one was not as abundant, but was far more popular- I saw several bees and butterflies visit the delicate pink flowers blooming off the top. I wasn’t sure what either of them was, so I drew them next to one another in my notebook as a way of remembering to look them up later. I tried focusing on identifying characteristics, like flower and leaf shape, and I scribbled in some notes when I felt that the image didn’t fully capture features like size or hue. Then, satisfied and a little tired from my hike, I packed up and went home.

The next day I opened up my journal to the two mystery plants and went to the plant identifying activity page on MyWoodlot: I used a couple different ID websites to double-check my results and realized quickly this would be harder than I thought. Most plants come in numerous varieties, and it’s hard to tell just by sight and memory which type you saw, or even if it was the native kind or its invasive cousin. If leaving things unknown upsets you, I wouldn’t recommend drawing, like I did. Instead, I would take photos or bring a field guide out with you. I can’t exactly say for certain what I found on my hike, but I am confident that the giant covering most of the marsh was a type of phragmities; a common reed, while the smaller, flowering one is Joe-Pye-weedimage3

Phragmites Source: Invasive Plant Atlas of New Englanimage4

Joe Pye Weed Source: Gertens

Now that I’ve had my first go at it, I plan on journaling again. It was a great way to slow down and observe my surroundings. I particularly enjoyed identifying something new, because I feel like I left the hike with more than I went in with. Sketching out what I saw helped me retain details that I would’ve otherwise forgotten. I also learned how simple and versatile nature journaling is; I could do it just as well in my own backyard.

Have you ever tried keeping a nature journal? Let us know how your experience went or if you’ve got any tips and tricks to share!


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