Keep a Nature Journal / Phenology Log, Part 1

I’ve been keeping nature journals off and on since the 1990s. I go through cycles where I put a lot of energy into them, then allow them to languish for months or even years at a time while I am focused on other projects.

This year, I started again in an easy, fun, spacious way.

I have guidelines for you (and me) but no “rules.” You get to make your own rules.

Here are a few ideas:

1. Keep a writer’s journal. (Whew! No need to draw!)

2. Keep an illustrated journal. (This may appeal to those who love to draw or want to try their hand at drawing as a meditative process. It’s all about the process, not the end product, in a nature journal.)

3. Keep a hybrid writing / sketch journal (my favorite). Include collage and mixed media if you like.

4. Keep a digital / photographic natural journal, perhaps posting on a blog or on Instagram with the hashtag #naturejournal or #phenology.

5. Keep a journal that’s a combination of any of these.

What does phenology mean? 

Phenology, simply, is the art and science of tracking seasonal changes, especially in relation to climate, plant, and animal life. I first heard the word from my friend Waverly Fitzgerald back in the 90s when she was teaching her School of the Seasons. In those pre-social media days, she would invite people to submit “Signs of the Season” to a form on her website. It was a lot of fun to read about the seasonal signs from people all over the world in rural and urban settings.

For many years I kept a phenology log / notebook in my kitchen where my partner and I would both jot down things we noticed … a storm, a visit from a buck or an encounter with a barred owl, the day of the first frost, or the day we first heard frog song or the dawn chorus, the day the first buds appeared and when flowers burst into bloom.

Why Keep a Nature Journal or Log?

It’s an excellent way to keep your attention on coming into relationship with the land right outside your door.

It’s a way to:

  • Court the wild. 
  • Observe and connect. 
  • Slow down. 
  • Spark your curiosity and creativity.
  • Love what’s right in front of you. 
  • Move away from a settler / consumer / owner mindset. 
  • Enter into a reciprocal relationship with the land.
  • Become aware of climate change on a very personal level.
  • Discover how nature can nurture and nourish you. 
  • Learn to give back to the natural world in return. 
  • Live in a cyclical rhythm with the seasons of the solar year and the phases of the moon. 
  • Discover the intersection of science, art, and mindfulness.

For those who have been celebrating the holy-days of the Wheel of the Year that are rooted in traditions from the British Isles, tracking the seasons right where you live is a way to make your own personal Wheel of the Year specific to your neighborhood and bioregion.

Ways to Start

First, choose one particular place to focus on for your journal or log, knowing that you aren’t limited to it.

Easy access is probably the most important thing: your front porch, your back yard, the view out your window, your apartment balcony, your garden, or the corner park are all good choices.

In addition to the one particular place, you may also want to choose to take a walk around the block, down the road, or through a park, observing the changes around you as you regularly walk the same route. I like to do this and take photos while I'm on my "Wild Wander," as I like to call a walk with no particular agenda. Sometimes when I get home I'll post the photos on Instagram. Sometimes I'll look at a photo or two and sketch it in my nature journal.

While on a walk, I will often take a cloth bag or basket with me and snippers, to I can bring home things that catch my eye ... lichen on a twig, a budding branch, a few rosehips. When I get home, I might sketch these things then put them on my nature altar. (In Winter, when the weather is cold and wet, it's much more pleasant to sketch inside with a cup of hot tea nearby.)

(Continued on the next page)

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