There is a large contingent of the hiking community that lives for hiking fast. Often I am also one of those people. Pushing your physical limits and testing that mental stamina to keep your legs moving, to climb that mountain, or to make it through those next few miles focuses me and brings me tranquility like few other things do. I am content with knowing that putting in the work to make it to the summit or whatever the end goal may be makes your accomplishment worth the effort. Yet, in the past couple of years, I have gone through increasingly longer periods of time where I find as much joy in sitting in silence, taking my time, and viewing a subjectively less impressive view than that from the top of a mountain or an ocean cliff. When reflecting on this perspective shift, I realized it coincided with the introduction of nature journaling into my life.
Three years ago if you had asked me about nature journaling, I would have given you a look of skepticism and firmly stated that I wasn’t interested. What would I even write down anyway? I’m not a writer or even an artist. Luckily I had a group of people who were excited to introduce me to what nature journaling could be and a purpose for it that I could identify with and understand.
Nature journaling does not have to be about creating a pretty picture or writing beautiful prose with flowing imagery. Those things can undeniably be a part of your experience, but the purpose I and so many others resonate with is instead creating an accurate account of where you are and what you notice using drawings, words, or both. It is a way to record your experience in nature, focus your observations, and start questioning what you see. Along with being an excellent science tool, there is a surprise bonus, as it turns out drawing really is a skill that is possible to improve on with practice. Personally, I use nature journaling to help me slow down and give myself permission to look and listen without worrying about getting anywhere else.
I have also been lucky enough to attend workshops and work with educators who have introduced me to numerous activities and exercises to help direct my journaling when it seems too intimidating to just start writing or drawing. Zooming in to notice the textures and patterns on a smaller part of an object followed by zooming out to draw and describe the object as a whole help focus in on the micro-world around you. Finding things to compare or mapping your surroundings can help you describe what is around you as well. An activity called sound mapping, where you sit in one spot and record the relative locations of the things you hear around you, helps to tune you into the noises, both natural and human created, that we so often ignore.
Many of these activities can be done once, but they also become meaningful when you find the same space to observe over weeks, months, or even years. The idea of finding your spot, the place that you go to observe nature, was written about extensively by Sigur Olson, an environmentalist, author and wilderness guide in Northern Minnesota and Ontario. He even had a spot on his property in Minnesota that he named Listening Point.
“I named this place Listening Point because only when one comes to listen, only when one is aware and still, can things be seen and heard. Everyone has a listening point somewhere. It does not have to be in the north or close to the wilderness, but someplace of quiet where the universe can be contemplated with awe.” – Sigurd F. Olson
Still being a somewhat recent transplant to Western New York I have recently begun my hunt for my own Listening Point again, but until then I am content with taking the time in a variety of spots to observe, especially in the winter when I find less motivation to be outside. Winter sometimes feels quieter, even this unseasonably warm one, but that does not mean the noise and movement of nature has disappeared entirely. Hawks and eagles still soar through the sky if you take the time to look up. Grasses and bare shrubs crackle in the wind and make their own kind of music.
Your own Listening Point does not need to be miles from civilization either. Even in backyards and parks, Blue Jays are ruling the bird feeders as the chickadees and sparrows try to flit in. Occasionally chipmunks or squirrels hop by to steal some birdseed for themselves. Deer and rabbits silently stand eating grass or crash through the underbrush in their efforts to run away from noises and potential danger. Nature journaling is a way to help document these observations and appreciate the changing and passing of seasons, from the big picture landscape to the world we can only closely observe under a magnifying glass.
Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are open from dawn to dusk as is Liberty, the Bald Eagle. The Nature Center is open from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. daily except Sunday when it opens at 1 p.m. More information can be found online at auduboncnc.org or by calling (716) 569-2345.