Take Note of Nature:
Keep a Nature Journal
By Andrea Lani
Autumn is the time of year when subtle changes in nature begin to draw our
attention. We experience cooler mornings, trees with their leaves turning
crimson, and squirrels busily storing acorns. Many of us also begin to turn
inward, becoming more reflective at this time of year, pondering the Big
Questions of life. With this awareness of nature and introspective state of
mind, fall can also be a wonderful time to begin recording our observations
and thoughts in a nature journal.
You don’t need any fancy equipment to start your nature journal; a pen and a
simple notebook or sketchpad will suffice. You don’t need a lot of extra time
or opportunities to go on expeditions, either—it’s possible to take a few quick
notes on the way out to your car in the mornings, or sketch a bird at the feeder
from your kitchen window. In creating your journal, anything goes. Some
things you might consider include:
Observations of weather, seasonal changes, animal behavior, animal tracks,
birds at the feeder, the shapes of leaves or twigs, insects on the windowsill,
flowers, grasses, mosses, bark, even soil. Be sure to include the date and
time, and if you don’t know the name of an animal or plant, try looking it up
in a field guide when you get home.
Drawings of landscapes, wildlife, items collected on a walk, your children or
other people, plants, insects, mushrooms. These can be simple pencil or pen
sketches, or full-color drawings or watercolors. Don’t worry about your
artistic skill—no one else has to see your work; the point is to have fun and
sharpen your observation skills.
Poetry or Essays about the things you observe in nature, the memories your
outdoor experiences evoke, and reflections on how these details fit into the
bigger picture of your life and the world. As with drawing, the finished
product is less important than your experience of fashioning words from the
As you work on your nature journal over time, you may notice that you are
developing skills that you can use in all aspects of your life, such as a greater
awareness of both what is around you and your own feelings and reactions as
well as the ability to sit and observe, quieting the chatter in your mind.
Nature journals and weather notebooks have been kept by farmers,
housewives, naturalists and artists for generations, and some of those
observations are being used now by scientists to document evidence of
climate change, such as the migration of different species or ice-out dates for
It can be inspiring to look at examples of these historic nature journals as well
as more recent ones. Some examples include The Country Diary of an
Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden and Drawn to Nature by Clare Walker
Leslie. After a few months or years of keeping track of nature, you will be
able to look back on your own journals and notice not only how the natural
world changes around you, but also how you have changed over time.
Now that’s worth taking note.
About the author: Andrea Lani is an Environmental Specialist with the Maine
Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Bureau of Air Quality.