Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The Poetry of Now: Nature Journaling #10

I’m going back directly to the book that started this journal journey. How to Teach Nature Journaling by John Muir Laws and Emilie Lygren is epic in scope and content. Seriously good stuff. Right in the middle is Poetry of Place and Moment. This lesson was perfect for my needs today.

The weekend came and went for me without even attempting a walk and journaling. It’s Tuesday and I still couldn’t get myself prepared for a big thing, but wanted to do something. It’s gray and cold here. The news is awful. But something short, I could do, so when I flipped to this one, I knew I hit the perfect opportunity. 

Using the powerful exploration phrases of “I notice”, “I wonder”, and “This reminds me”, I could write something that depicts my Now that's right on my patio. The setting need not be fancy. With luck, I could take the next step and connect how I’m feeling inside with that outside.

I donned my coat and took my journal out. I sat for a while without doing anything. I needed to enter the space and that takes time.

My poem simply lists that process. I didn’t worry about it at all. It could benefit greatly from revisions. I could add, delete, edit, tweak. Pfft. It’s content, errors, and weaknesses fit my mood- my Now.

Last week I spent significant time on my visuals. This week, all I got was a shadow of an American goldfinch. And to me, that’s fitting, too. It’s both physically and mentally dark, obscured, and basic in today’s Now. I didn’t add any details to the goldfinch’s posting except its scientific name. I did take a photo of dried blackeyed Susan seed heads as a reminder that perhaps that will be a food source. 

Remember: journaling is never wrong. We are recording our place and moment as best we can.

If done in a class, journalers can share their work in pairs or whole-group but it’s important to give everyone the space they need. Sharing should always be a choice and expectations for audience reactions and feedback must be in place ahead of time. 

Poetry is an especially personal journey. It links one's inside with the outside and that exposes the core.

I added a picture of the dry Norway maple leaves and still-green alpine strawberry leaves that were at my feet. The green is a reminder to me that there’s still tenderness and life out there in our Now. 

The work is in becoming aware of it and acknowledging it.

Then, we can step forward to a new moment and place.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Life-Sized Leaf: Nature Journaling Week 9


How are you doing? I find myself wondering if I’m doing enough or too much. Worrying too much or too little. Supporting myself too much or too little.

What really is life-sized: really there in proper size and scope.

The fall weather was AMAZING this week. Today, it’s overcast and cooler. I’m glad I’m inside with my bathrobe and coffee, reflecting on what I did yesterday.

I got up super early and watched BTS’s Map of the Soul ON:E concert first thing. That was beyond life-sized and so incredibly fun. Huge sets, big numbers, elaborate costuming, and amazing performances left me in awe with cheeks sore from smiling and gaping for 2 1/2 hours. By the time it was over, the sun had risen and the house was stirring with Saturday’s regular living. In the afternoon I set off to Fox River Park for a tree-bathing walk.

I wanted to soak in the forest tub for a while so I picked a fallen leaf off the trail and sat upon a fallen trunk trailside to journal.

American toad 

Basswood leaf: topside

Basswood leaf: underside

I became aware of more and more things as I sat: physical sensations of the log and ground beneath my feet, aural input of squirrels and nuthatches, and smells of the woods. People and their pets walked by and I enjoyed short conversations outside my normal circle.

The act of trying to replicate a physical item drew me in. As you can see here, I only used pencil in the sketching, using words to describe what I was seeing. I photographed both the top and bottom of the leaf for additional reference. I felt very content by the time I was done. I had witnessed as best I could. I left the leaf that I spent 20 minutes within the place where I had found it. It will be able to continue its life-size existence.

I added the color this morning. That was another layer of noticing and recording. “Life-sized” should honor everything about the subject: colors, damage, and textures that truly exist. Yes, I must decide how to depict them, but my first responsibility is to bring into myself what REALLY is there.

What really is there. Sometimes we downplay our own influence- we make ourselves out to be less than our life-sized selves. Others do the opposite. Seeing and feeling that life-sized self is important.

I was reminded of that when I looked up information on Seek about my leaf’s origin. It was from a basswood tree. Basswood trees are native to North American forests and play vital roles in a host of species’ survival. The flowers provide nectar as food to insects. The seeds provide food for chipmunks, squirrels, and mice. The leaves are important food sources for caterpillars. By the looks of my leaf, it had fed quite a few organisms. The dark spots were probably a type of mold- another organism relying on it. The tree which formed this leaf has widespread connections and benefits to the forest it both helps create and exists within.

We humans do the same: we can have a big impact. I’m left considering that further.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Networking: Nature Journaling Week 8

What a time we’re living in. I hope everyone has at least something in their lives that is constructively supporting them is some fashion. Constructively, because I know there’s a lot of harmful options out there in use. I’m guilty myself. We all need support- now more than ever.

As I was on the Monches Ice Age Trail segment making my way to my Wisconsin DNR trail camera, the forest reminded me that support is required by all organisms. At every given moment, every living thing is in a dance with the other life forms and elements both near it and farther afield.

The trees, birds, and invertebrates are all noticeably responding to diminishing light and temperatures. The sights, sounds and smells of the forest indicate that. Some greens, like the mosses, are still brilliant whereas the trees are breaking down their chlorophyll and absorbing what they can into their cores, revealing those gorgeous yellows and reds that are hidden the rest of the growing season.

I love the pile of hickory nut shell bits on top of the rock. Red, grey, and fox squirrels abound in this area, as do chipmunks. Someone had a feast.

I sat on the bank of the Oconomowoc River for a while, just resting. All three parts: body, mind, and spirit, are frazzled and damaged. However, I also pictured people who I’ve been able to walk outside with over the last few months. Others whom I’ve chatted with online. Others whom I have listened to as they taught in online presentations and lessons.

Eventually, as I looked down into the water, I realized there was a huge mass of fungi sprouting over the water at the base of the tree that was leaning over the river in front of me. It took some maneuvering to get some shots of it. I decided to sketch the scene at my feet.

I used a normal pencil in the field and added color at home this morning. The photos and notes I took in place helped me recall specific textures and colors later. As I sat, I became aware of birds on the river and the duckweed collecting in eddies in front of me, and behind me several chipmunks irritated at both my sitting and another person’s and his dog’s walking presences. Air, water, sunlight, earth all connecting and supporting us. 

Earth. Sitting on a rock reminded me that everything I was experiencing was affected by the glaciers that spread down across this area tens of thousands of years ago and retreated about 15,000 years ago. That repeated grinding of ice and material destroyed what existed before and built the foundations of everything today. Time is part of our support system, too.

Looking more closely at the photos I took let me notice the spider webs clinging to the mushrooms. The gill details on the underside of these fruiting bodies have a regimented beauty in themselves. That fungi might be a honey mushroom, which is a parasite of living trees. It’s connected to that tree and offers a refuge for arachnids. The tree offers shade, oxygen, and food to species like us and may itself need fungi to feed its own roots.

An insect had flown down to my book as I drew. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize it had not left by the time I decided to close my book. Its existence will now be memorialized in a macabre way for as long as this book remains in existence. 

That’s a sad fact but it relates to a very important point of this entire practice: doing things and documenting how they feel, what we learned, and what questions we might still have as a kind of testament. What I have in this book happened. I was there. It affected me. This past will help explain the me of today and tomorrow.

Two months into this I am growing in my confidence to draw more detailed scenes. I think I’m seeing more things. I notice that I consider opportunities to journal during my days. For example, I just took my cats out for a bit of sunshine and air on the patio and a rogue pumpkin vine caught my eye. Its huge leaves and spiraling tendrils were gorgeous and I imagined drawing them. There are moments everywhere if we look.

I hope readers remember that it doesn’t matter what your pages look like- you do not have to be anything or anyone but yourself. What really matters is taking the time and doing. As in all things, failure is only guaranteed by not trying and the more we reach outward, the stronger we become.

I wish you strength this week. And moments of seeing your network of connections. We all need them.