He wrote about things he had done, things he had seen, and thoughts he had had. Sometimes he drew a picture. He always ended by asking himself a question so he would have something to think about while falling asleep. On the day he found the swan's nest, this is what Sam wrote in his diary:
I saw a pair of trumpeter swans today on a small pond east of camp. The female has a nest with eggs in it. The female has a nest with eggs in it. I saw three, but I am going to put four in the picture---I think she was laying another one. This is the greatest discovery I ever made in my entire life. I did not tell Pop. My bird book says baby swans are called cygnets. I am going back tomorrow to visit the great swans again. I heard a fox bark today. Why does a fox bark? Is it because he is mad, or worried, or hungry, or because he is sending a message to another fox? Why does a fox bark?
The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White (p.5)
I am currently reading The Trumpet of the Swan with my kids. Each night they snuggle next to me and we are transported to a world with a gentle boy named Sam and an amazing swan named Louis. I love all of E.B. White's books, but this one is especially dear to my heart with the exquisite descriptions of the natural world though the eyes of a boy and a swan. I am convinced that E.B. White must have had quite a collection of his own nature journals or at least spent hours observing creatures in order to bring them to life so beautifully.
Sam's swan observations remind me of one of my most treasured moments with my son at a small park in Jacksonville, Florida. We were the only ones there that day and Noah stopped playing when he noticed a large wood stork walking along the near-by creek. I stayed right where I was, but Noah slowly crept towards the water to get a better view. As he got closer, he dropped to his knees and eventually all the way down to the ground as he inched forward. I was in awe of how close he was able to get that enormous bird. And Noah stayed on his belly watching the bird for quite awhile until the bird flew further down the creek.
When Noah returned to the playground, he was bursting with observations, especially the exciting information he had to share about how wood storks urinate: " I saw him peeing. He didn't pee in a line. His pee was one little drop then another". You don't find those details in the typical field guide or bird book and I never thought I would be so moved by a description of a wood stork peeing, but I was. It really was a magical moment for both of us and as soon as we got home Noah recorded it in his sketchbook.
I would love to say that our family is dedicated to keeping a precise and consistent journal filled with our observations, drawings, and questions about the natural world. But the reality is that we aren't. I almost always have a sketchbook and some colored pencils in the car, but that doesn't mean they get used every time we go for a hike. I'd say we are more sporadic, wanna be nature journalists. I say "wanna-be" because I really do want to be one of those people who always has a notebook handy and filled with dates and observations for future consultation. I yearn to fill pages with detailed drawings and descriptions to capture both magical moments and the more mundane.
Sam's journal entries in The Trumpet of the Swan have motivated me to make nature journaling more of a daily habit than an occasional event. I began my quest with a Flickr search which not only provided lots of inspiration, but also highlighted the diversity of "journals". Like this wonderful box of index cards which Leslie started several years ago:
"I started the journal in 2008. I keep the same box and same cards (365 cards with month index dividers)year after year, and the note cards just get added to, on a new line for each year on a specific card for that day when I have something to journal, that way I can see trends."
You can read more about Leslie's nature journal at her blog, Sew Inspiring.
Take a look at the fabulous nature journals Stefani's boys produce. Drawings, observations, photographs....it is all so good and inspiring. Read more details about how their journals have evolved at Blue Yonder Ranch.
And finally have a peek at what Jimmie and her daughter did one day: a nature sit. What a great way to focus in on tiny details no matter where you are in the world. I love how both of their observations and drawings are included in this post about the day they chose to study a small patch of grass. It is this very process of stopping to examine and peer into the minutia that pushes me to make a more serious effort at keeping at nature journal.
My desire to learn more about nature journaling deepened when I happened upon this recent Rythme of the Home article about one family's phenology log. And yesterday I heard about the newest twist in nature journaling: iNaturalist which recently launched an i-phone app. In addition to internet research, I have also turned to a naturalist who has been keeping nature journals for over twenty years. Stay tuned for that interview later in the week.
But now, I would like to turn to each of you for help in my quest. Please share how your family keeps track of your observations and experiences in nature. And please, please add photos of your journals and drawings to The Magnifying Glass Group on Flickr.
So here are my questions for you:
Do you have a nature journal?
If so, how is it organized (file box, calendar, blank sketchbook)?
How often do you add entries to the journal?