Five Reasons to Keep a Nature Journal

June 2, 2023

By Heidi Lasher, Conservancy Volunteer, excerpt from our Spring Newsletter

It may seem inadvisable to pack a pencil and notebook paper in your backpack on your next outdoor excursion. After all, neither is considered among the ten essentials for tramping in the wilderness. Paper is easy to scrunch, tear, or saturate. Pencils are liable to break. But both are basic tools for nature journaling, a practice that generates surprising benefits for the most beginner of writers, drawers, and naturalists. Here are five reasons to keep your own nature journal:

  1. Rev up your sensory muscles. Humans are sensory organisms capable of distinguishing small nuances in sound, texture, movements, light, and smell (among others). The outdoor environment provides a rich and intoxicating sensory playground that invites us to exercise our senses and test the range of our sensory capabilities.
  2. Discover something new about your local ecosystem. Journaling is a way of paying attention, and when you journal in nature and close to home, you invariably stumble upon new information about the critters who live in and visit your region, plants, shrubs and trees, mushrooms, insects, soil, the seasons, the watershed and the landscape. All it takes to learn something new is close observation and curiosity. 
  3. Develop a personal relationship with place. Taking notes and sketching observations is a wonderful way to develop a personal relationship with the outdoor world. The act of writing notes and/or drawing is the act of filtering what you experience through who you are. Tell ten people to describe or draw a tree, and you will see ten different experiences of a tree. Each one an expression of both the tree and the person who described or drew it. 
  4. Create a meaningful experience in the natural world. When we pay attention to something, we grow to love it. And when we love something, we pay closer attention to it. This virtuous cycle is a way to create meaning in even the shortest visits outside. What we choose to see and describe, whether it’s a blade of grass, a bird, or the whole scope of a horizon gives us clues about what is meaningful to us in that moment. 
  5. Boost your mental health. We all know that spending more time outside in a safe and calm environment can boost our moods. The effect is multiplied when we get in the flow of drawing or writing what we see and feel.
Liberty Lake illustrations by Merit Fischer

There are no rules to keeping a nature journal. Our advice is to keep it loose and fun. Write or draw what you see, allow yourself to wonder, invite yourself to associate your thoughts with memories, and—above all—withhold judgment. You are a part of nature, too.