Nature journaling: A good way to connect with nature
One of Anne Frank’s diary entries reads,
“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature.”
It has been my experience that Anne Frank was right. Unfortunately, too many of us choose to live as Anne Frank was forced to, hiding in our homes, offices, and automobiles, oblivious to all that is natural outside, around us. Other than perhaps a week of holiday camping in Jasper or Banff, a day canoeing on the North Saskatchewan River, an occasional afternoon walk in a local park, or watching birds at the birdfeeder in your back yard, few of us avail ourselves of regular opportunities to be aware of and in some way in contact with trees and flowers, birds, and bugs. We may be avid gardeners, walk to the nearest bus shelter on our way to work, or help grandkids chase a butterfly, but we seldom do even these activities with an awareness of and deep appreciation for the signs of nature–bird songs, earthworm castings, hare tracks in the snow, or even the honking geese migrating above.
Richard Louv recently wrote a book called “Last child in the Woods: Saving our children from Nature Deficit Disorder.” In his book, Louv points out how children today much prefer playing indoors because that’s where the electrical outlets are. Land developers, after giving their new subdivision some nature-evoking name such as “Fox Creek”, quickly chop down all the trees to prevent lawsuits from parents whose children would otherwise climb the trees and get hurt. I think its true that we form a connection to the things we value. As soon as an awaited child is born, if not before, parents quickly, deeply and strongly become attached to that child. As slightly older children, we feel we belong to our immediate family, and we defend what we belong and are attached to. As stewards of God’s creation, we are called to care for and to defend creation from that which would destroy it, including the excesses of our own materialism and greed. It also means, I believe, that we are to deeply value what God has made, and to be intimately connected to it. I can’t think of a better, more effective way of connecting with creation, of knowing and appreciating the wonders of creation than by engaging in what has been called nature journaling.
Nature journaling is taking the time to look, to listen, to touch and smell, perhaps to taste, that is to take in and appreciate, and to make a record of some aspects of nature. When I go out to do some nature journaling, I may simply sit for a spell in my own backyard to watch a pair of wrens build a nest in a bird house I made, or walk down to the Whitemud Creek near my home to study the different buds on the trees as they prepare for winter. I have a few pencils and a sketch or note pad to make some notes such as the date, time of day, temperature, wind condition, sunlight, and then I make a few notes about what I am seeing, how it makes me feel to be a witness to this marvellous activity. I usually also try to make a sketch or two and I don’t care that I’m not an accomplished artist. My notes and sketches are always “good enough” if they help me remember what I was a part of that day, that afternoon, in that place. A book that introduced me to nature journaling and has also been most helpful in developing my style is “Keeping a nature journal: Discover a whole new way of seeing the world around you” by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth. I take my nature journal with me wherever I go–on vacation, to a conference–and I have a smaller note book handy just in case I happen to see a downy woodpecker land on a branch just outside my office window. A journal entry might take a whole afternoon in the summer, or five minutes at my desk in winter. It’s about taking the time to connect and in that connecting to value, to learn, to appreciate the creation and the Creator.
This post was authored by John Sneep, Professor of Psychology at The King’s University College.