Sunday, March 13, 2016

A Lesson in Nature Journaling: "A Walk in the Woods" Nolde Forest March 9th

With temperatures 30 degrees above normal, our early spring botany walk at Nolde Forest seemed more like a summer stroll. On your journal page, don't forget to write the date, temperature, place, and who you are with. Because, yes, you will forget! When I walk with a group of people, I take short notes and make quick sketches with a Sharpie Ultra Fine Pen, a Pigma Micron 05 pen, or a Zig Writer. I started the first page in the parking lot while I was waiting for the group to arrive. I made some notes concerning the butterflies, birds, and blooms that I noticed that morning at home. Above you can see how quickly the page fills up with bits and bobs. That evening I added color to the page using Prismacolor Verithin Colored Pencils. (see below for product descriptions)

One member of the group found a fine lichen growing on bark and showed us the asexual reproductive bodies were visible. I drew a quick close-up to remember the details. Don't forget your senses! I added notes to the page describing how the Witch Hazel buds felt like velvet and the dried stems of last year's mountain mint still smelled yummy when crushed. As we walked up the trail, I jotted down at the bottom of the page how the upland habitat soil changed to a more acidic one as evidenced by the Mountain Laurels, Blueberry bushes, and spotted wintergreen plants. I would like to go back and spend some time drawing the wonderfully twisted stems of the laurel!

Sometimes I use the back of a page, and sometimes I don't. Here I continued the journey on the back of the first page. One easy trick to do while walking is to just pick up a leaf and trace it. Make a note about the color so later you can get it correct. Since this was last year's leaf, the color was simply brown. One great thing about the oak leaves is that they do not decompose quickly and you can find them to trace in early spring before the new leaves unfurl. On this page I also rubbed a piece of wintergreen leaf on the paper. The smell did fade quickly but the experience is fun. While mammals are not usually visible during a group walk, their signs and scats are. I made notes about some white deer hair that was found on the trail. Always wonder and question in your journal. I wondered if the deer was shedding. Conversation on the trail turned to the topic of what, if any, animal eats ferns. And suddenly, there on the side of the trail were clumps of eaten ferns as evidenced by the leftovers. Apparently, the rachis of the fern is not very tasty or maybe it is too tough to chew. So much on this page! I added a contrast which was a bright patch of spring onions popping up next to broken clam shells. I decided not to rub the onions on the page being afraid that the smell WOULD last. 

One more point about this page: LISTEN! Keep your ears open for both nature sounds and human ones. Sometimes I make notes of bird sounds, but this time I drew a "sound picture" (not a true sketch of what I saw, just something to remind me of the sound) of the brook which was making a delightful classic babble babble. I also wrote an "Overheard". It's fun to note what others say. 

Okay, last page. We were beyond the half way point in the walk at this time and decided to see what was happening in the wet lands. Interesting sights along the way were Beech Drops and Rattlesnake Plantain. The Rattlesnake Plantain still had the dried seed pods from last year attached so I noted that. Something else I noted was the exposed root of the plant which I had never seen on this species but related it to what I've seen on domestic orchids. It's good to make connections to previous knowledge. Back to the parking lot and a side trip to see the newly excavated Pileated Woodpecker Hole. I picked up a chip and traced it to show the large size hunk of wood that this bird is able shred with one blow. I tried to show the size of the hole by drawing hands next to it. Hmmm, may have been a mistake, but you get the idea - when you don't have a ruler, use some familiar object to measure with. 

One more detail from the wetlands. We found a patch of Skunk Cabbage with blooming flowers! The lime green and purple spathe and the yellow spadix were quite a colorful sight! The walk lasted two hours and I have three pages of notes and sketches to remember all the details. That evening when I colored in the sketches, it was like being on the walk again which only re-enforces the idea that journalist live life twice!

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