Juicy Journals

Juicy Journals & Wild Words

Creating a Nature Journal

Take your journal out of safe confines and walk on the wild side!

By Molly J. Anderson-Childers | Updated September 22, 2018

It's springtime in the Rockies, a truly magical season when anything can happen — true love, baby birds learning to fly, unexpected snowstorms…and maybe, just maybe, the creative seeds we planted in the fall are beginning to bloom. We've talked about all kinds of journals, from a poet's journal to an artist's sketchbook, and explored many different types of media — collage, painting, writing, drawing, and more. It's time to take your journal out of the safe confines of your studio, and take a walk on the wild side!

To create a nature journal, you can hand-bind natural papers into a recycled cardboard cover, or purchase a blank spiral bound sketch pad or journal from your favorite bookstore or art supply shop. Either way, you want something sturdy, a journal that will be able to withstand wear and tear. Look for something that's not too large and bulky; a journal that fits easily in your backpack or pocket when you're on the trail. Your art supplies should be similarly low-maintenance and easy to carry — a couple of charcoal pencils, a few favorite pens, and a portable watercolor set will get you off to a good start.

It's also a good idea to bring along a camera — and not just to document your trip. Use it as a source of inspiration — you can always photograph the things you want to sketch when you get home. This is an especially good idea when you're attempting to draw a bird or animal — they don't usually sit still long enough to pose for a portrait! It can also be useful for later reference; if your landscape isn't going well and you're out of time, you can always photograph the scene and work on it another time.

Once you've found something that sparks your interest, snap a quick photo or two. Then, find a comfy rock and start sketching! Make quick sketches of landscapes, animals, birds, bugs, wildflowers, or your fellow campers — anything that inspires you. These can be the basis for later paintings, drawings, sculptures, stories or a myriad of other creative projects. You can also collect pine needles, juniper berries, and moss to make little juniper fairy dolls, or a number of other crafts.

Leaves, stones, interesting pieces of driftwood, pinecones, and other natural materials can find their way into your next collage or found art sculpture. The initials carved on an aspen tree by a lonely shepherd might be the seed that inspires a short story or novel. There might be a story in that abandoned mine; the old cabin that's seen better days; or the birds' nest made from candy-bar wrappers and fishing line and grass. Let nature — and man's impact on nature — inspire you! For further inspiration and meditations on all things wild, check out the works of Edward Abbey, Terry Tempest Williams, and Thoreau.

Revere nature in all her wondrous beauty. Tread lightly on her, for she is fragile and lovely. Leave each wild place a little better than you found it — collect your photos and sketches, and pick up any trash you find. Once you are gone, there should be no trace of your passage through this sacred place. Leave only your footprints behind.

A Note on Preparation and Safety

A couple of years ago, a man from Louisiana came to visit our beautiful San Juan Mountains on vacation. He was inexperienced in the ways of the high country, and got lost. After a couple of days, Search and Rescue workers found him miles off course, wearing only shorts and a T-shirt, half-dead from exposure and exhaustion. The newspaper quoted him as saying, "I got a lot more wilderness than I bargained for."

Don't be caught unawares — wild places can be dangerous — even deadly — if you don't know what you're doing. If you're going to be out in the woods, even just for a short hike, take a map, a compass, and a partner. Don't hike or explore alone, and make sure someone else always knows where you're hiking and when you're expected to return.

Good hiking boots are a must, as well as comfortable socks, rain/cold weather gear, and some snacks high in protein like trail mix or energy bars. Some folks trust to technology, insisting that a smartphone and GPS are in their packs at all times…but these items can break, run out of batteries, and malfunction…so don't depend on technology as your sole lifeline. Common sense is better than a GPS any day! Don't stray from trails, and make frequent references to landmarks like rivers, mountains, or rock formations to make sure you're on the right track.

Be aware of the wildlife in the area, and make sure they're aware of YOU! You don't want to surprise a mama bear while she's out for a little walk with her cubs. For more information on wilderness safety please check with your local National Park or National Monument — their rangers and their park websites are an amazing source of area-specific info that can help you stay safe on the trail.

Next: Creating a Poet's Journal

©2009 Molly J. Anderson-Childers. All rights reserved.