Nature journals for the rest of us

I didn’t realize how badly I needed a creative outlet until I started putting together the journals for a recent workshop event. I’d been stashing away ideas on my Pinterest boards, and pulled together a set of journals to celebrate the Full Flower Moon on May 3rd.

For my first trick, I cut paper bags into long sheets, soaked them, and hung them to dry. Finally, a chance to do something cool with those Trader Joe’s bags I’ve been hoarding! Once they were dry, I ironed them (if you try this at home, cover the paper with a cloth) and cut them to size.

traderjoesbagI used the paper bag pieces for journal covers, gluing on another paper printed with the event title and a wonderful passage from Peter London’s book, Drawing Closer to Nature.

The text block was mainly printed pages I created with InDesign, with a few pages cut from discarded books and other papers from my stash. (I’m an avid collector of found paper. I’ve even got some wrapping paper decorated with events from the 1976 Olympics! I’m sure someday it will fit a project, right?)

I set up the nature journals in landscape format, using half a page of standard letter-sized paper. Since I used a variety of materials, I didn’t even try to match up the edges and sizes of all the pages perfectly. I bound the journals using a tortoise shell pattern, a new one for me. (I’ve been playing with Japanese stab bindings for a while now.)

finished flowermoonjournal

The end result was a nature journal that we felt comfortable using. When I teach a nature journaling workshop, I try to reach people where they are. Most of us aren’t experienced artists, we’re just regular people who want to sit and pay attention to what’s happening on our small patch of earth.

I’ve been to a few classes in nature journaling, and while I did pick up a few neat tricks in terms of drawing technique, most of what I’ve read and seen has been fairly intimidating and a tad beyond the reach of my current skill set. You don’t need a fancy journal to collect your nature experiences.

I added a small wax paper pocket for us to save a leaf or other item. Over the course of my wanderings that evening, I found the item my pocket was meant to hold — a wedding favor that had dropped on the ground the day before. A simple thing: a toothpick with the date on it. (Probably also courtesy of Pinterest?)


On the other side:


So of course, after a bit of reflection, I concluded that the day was mine. That was the message I took to the bench overlooking ferns and beech trees: My journal is mine. My day is mine.

That is how a nature journal should be — make it yours.

One notebook to rule them all

Maybe you’re like me and you keep a paper planner, a writing notebook, a nature journal, scraps of shopping lists, index cards with quotes on them, and so on. I’ve tried to go paperless using Google calendar and Evernote, but the truth of the matter is that I love paper, fancy pens, and all that. Material book culture pleases me.


You know what else pleases me? Meeting the carpool on time. Meeting my copy-editing deadlines. Removing apostrophes from plural nouns. Watching the ants circling peony buds. Enjoying a meal cooked by my teenage son. Doing all the things.

You may be able to relate to the long list of scattered tasks. Especially if you’re an entrepreneur. Chris Guillebeau writes articles that resonate, in particular this one from February: “How to Run a Business and Still Care for Your Family.”

Priorities are not just a question of time, in other words, they are also a question of focus and intention. I think it’s important for each of us to be able to say:

This is what I am living for.

This is what matters.

I will select these values and allow them to be my compass.

The way this is lived out may be different than how other people live, or it may even be totally unique.

So what are you living for? What matters? How do you translate these things into a life?


My friends, here’s an idea: Focus your scattered paper energy. Ditch the dozens of notebooks, planners, journals, scraps, and rubber-banded index cards.

Two words: Bullet Journal.

I started one in March and fell in love immediately. One notebook to rule them all. It’s indexed, so I can find my quotes, my reading list, my nature drawings, my lecture notes, my essay starts and story maps, and my daily schedule. I use a Leuchtturm1917 medium-sized book with dotted pages.


Granted, it’s not as neatly written now as when I started, but it’s highly functional, and functional is what I’m after.

naturejournalpageGo find a notebook and try a bullet journal. Like all systems, it’s tweakable. Make up collections as you go. Make it do what you need it to do. Make a mess.

Just don’t lose it!