The Ick and Awe of a Nature Journal
guest post by Kimberly Zook, Editor, The Motherhood Muse
Despite taking numerous photos of insects on family vacations and collecting caterpillars for my pet turtle when I was a little girl, I did not begin ‘collecting nature’ in a nature journal until I was in college. I had plenty of diaries and journals throughout my childhood, but the idea of a nature journal had never been presented to me. But the experience of creating my first one at the age of 21 inspired me to continue making and using nature journals, because they are different from the typical writing journal.
Whether you come to Writers Inspired today as a follower of this blog, a student of Mary Jo’s, a reader of The Motherhood Muse, or a blog surfer, I hope this post will inspire you to begin a nature journal, even if being in nature isn’t one of your top favorite things to do!
Nature journals can take on a number of appearances and can be used in a variety of ways. My first nature journal stinks, literally. My second and third ones are hardbound, store bought. My fourth journal is stained with juices used to preserve frogs for dissecting. And my fifth nature journal is in the shape of a belly.
Like the range of smells and shapes projected from my nature journals, each journal has its own unique meaning and usefulness.
During and after college I lived in a tropical rainforest in Costa Rica. This is when I began my first nature journal, so I could record the overwhelming biodiversity that captivated me yet left me dizzy with confusion. Stepping into the rainforest is like seeing Disneyworld for the first time. To the untrained, novice eye, it is hard to know where to look, what you are looking at and where to go. In the rainforest I first tried drawing every creature I saw and writing a description about it. But I soon began seeing too many things to record it all: a dung beetle rolling a ball of dung along, a leaf cutter ant carrying a leaf down a tree, a capuchin monkey screeching at me, a flower that smelled like a dead mouse, a leaf as furry as a lamb . . . I started taping leaves and flowers into my journal. I wrote short poems to describe the activity buzzing around me. I searched the forest floor for feathers and fur to place in between the pages. It’s been several years since I created my first nature journal, and I still open it occasionally to read through it. After all it is sitting only five feet away from me, tempting with the smells and textures of the rainforest.
My next two nature journals I purchased during graduate school as it was a time in my life when I did a lot of technical writing. The two journals, however, are catered towards young writers, so I found the style and layout inspirational after spending several hours a day writing pages that consisted of words like statistical significance, alpha and beta, fitness, experimental design, and ‘in conclusion.’ The two journals, My Nature Book by Linda Kranz and My Nature Journal by Adrienne Olmstead, gave me a structured space to observe and think about nature when I didn’t always get a chance to step outdoors.
A few years later I created over 100 nature journals for my students. I was teaching biology to 9th graders and wanted to introduce them to nature through writing. We used our journals outside to record our observations of the community of organisms in the pond. We drew diagrams of our dissected frog in the journals. We painted chemicals (the safe ones) on the pages and wrote about the relationship between chemistry and nature.
My latest nature journal is more of a ‘human nature’ journal as it consists of my musings during my first pregnancy. The pages grow in size for each month that my belly grew bigger. The words question and wonder about the new life that grew inside of me. I worked through my concerns and anticipations on the pages until the journal expanded into motherhood. I wrote letters to my daughter, making wishes and promises to her for her future.
Now that my two daughters, ages three (almost) and 10 months, are accompanying me on nature hikes, helping me grow flowers, watching squirrels hang upside down on tree trunks, splashing into puddles, and searching for rocks to skip, I am looking forward to starting my sixth nature journal, our first nature journal together. I wonder what shape and size and smells it will take on?
As a writer, nature journals have created entire worlds of ideas for me to write about. My writing has improved, because I’ve learned to incorporate and develop all five senses into my writing as well as elements of nature. As a woman and a mother, nature journals have deepened my connection to the environment and given me the freedom to explore the ick and awe of Mother Nature.
We’d love to hear what you have to say about nature journals on this blog here today! One person who comments will be chosen randomly to win a free subscription to the 2010 issues of The Motherhood Muse literary magazine! Please stop by our blog for the blog tour so you can continue reading more about motherhood, writing and nature.
We also hope you’ll consider entering our first writing contest by May 1st! There are two categories, both open prompt: essay and short story. Winners will receive monetary prizes, publication, free subscriptions, and more. Please click here for contest details.
The Motherhood Muse offers mothers and writers the opportunity to dig beneath the surface of spilled milk, Band-Aids, and crayon-scribbled walls to explore the depth of their nature. Children nourish our souls while words nourish our minds.
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The Motherhood Muse is about connecting two worlds (the writer and the mother), creating one voice, and crafting words into an infinite number of worlds. We come here to reconnect with mother nature through writing to share the beauty of our world with ourselves and our children.