Journaling | Philosophy and Ecology of Place



Charles Darwin


Henry David Thoreau's Journals

If you have a naturalist bent or cherish a particular place in nature, one you visit on a regular basis, you might consider a journal that documents how nature and the appreciation of its diversity and abundance fulfills you. If you wish to share your writing, notes on biology, animal and insect habitation, bird migrations and plant communities can be enormously useful to individuals and organizations safe guarding the environment.

Benefits:  Philosophy and Ecology of Place
This demanding catagory of writing is beneficial in a number of ways.  It hones your skills of observation and identification. It also presents an opportunity for study and pleasurable reading of books written by famous naturalists and will, perhaps, help you determine whether your own writing will be for private consumption or publication.  
Begin by reading some of the greats. Several famous books leap to mind for reference: A Natural History of Selborne by Gilbert White (1720-1793) On the Origin of Species Charles Darwin (1809-1882) On Walden Pond by Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)  Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard (1945-) Silent Spring by Rachel Carson or writing by John Muir,  Edward Abbey, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John James Audubon, William Bartram, Alfred Russell Wallace, Barry Lopez or Terry Tempest Williams to name a few. Each has their unique philosophy and writing style. 

Format:  Nature Philosopher
Do you have a passion for musing while wandering? Do you frequent a special, outdoor setting such as a creek, river or lakeside, a local wood, hillside, country road or beach? In A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and Walden Pond, both naturalist authors chose a well loved, familiar place in which to observe and report the phenomenon of local ecology, describing both common and rare sightings of birds, insects, aquatic life and mammals. These observations and their basis in the natural order form and inform the diarist’s philosophy and theological musings on the interface between God and the awe inspiring architecture of nature.

Perhaps you have a scientific bent and prefer to travel out with specimen jars, test tubes, or equipment for plant collecting, returning home to jot data in a journal that records your observations through microscope and magnify glass as Wallace, Darwin and countless other before you have, forming your understanding of nature through the practice of deep observation.

Equip yourself with a journal that allows for maximum flexibility. Blank pages might be best so that you can incorporate both writing and drawing including collections of wildflowers, leaves, feathers or insects for pressing. If this is a private journal, anything goes. However, if you intend to publish or share your writing a system of cataloging is recommended.

Format:  The Birder
Ardent bird watchers typically keep a life list of birds they’ve observed.  Non-writers may simply wish to record the basics: Type or species, taxonomic name, city, country and the date of sighting, cataloguing the information in their own system.

How: Those who wish to write about the circumstances surrounding each bird sighting will have different journal requirements as well as those also engaged in photographic documentation of the bird sighted.  Artists that wish to sketch or water color birds for reference for larger, future work should consider archival quality paper when choosing a journal.

A friend, an ardent nature observer and bird watcher, has taken on the personal goal of renaming the birds of North America to his own poetic liking!  The ABA (American Bird Association) would never condone such a thing, so if you wish to play by the rules, they are as follows:

ABA Recording Rules (as amended 1999)
Members who submit life list and annual list totals to the American Birding Association for publication in the annual ABA List Report must observe the ABA Recording Rules. Many non-members who enjoy maintaining lists find these rules useful. A bird included in totals submitted for ABA lists must have been encountered in accordance with the following

ABA Recording Rules.
(1) The bird must have been within the prescribed area and time-period when encountered.
(2) The bird must have been a species currently accepted by the ABA Checklist Committee for lists within its area, or by the A.O.U. Checklist for lists outside the ABA area and within the A.O.U. area, or by Clements for all other areas.
(3) The bird must have been alive, wild, and unrestrained when encountered.
(4) Diagnostic field-marks for the bird, sufficient to identify to species, must have been seen and/or heard and/or documented by the recorder at the time of the encounter.
(5) The bird must have been encountered under conditions that conform to the ABA Code of Birding Ethics.

Format:  Stargazer
The study of astronomy and practice of star gazing is an exalted experience and astronomy buffs understand the value of documentation. For nature lovers with a spirit of adventure and exploration, the night sky is the purest expression of unsullied nature left to humankind. Amateur astronomers also understand the importance of their role in the substantiated record of chance discoveries.

Even the casual observance of the night sky or annual visit to an observatory show is enough to change our perception of day to day reality and its accompanying burdens. The significance of one’s greatest worries are diminished by taking a moment to observe the vast spectacle of space.

The seriousness of your efforts to document observations and occurrences may change over time. Some may wish to simply begin with a large format journal, preferably one that lays flat, with ample space for drawings & charts, notes and observations on the characteristics of the object viewed. There are printed book formats available for this purpose as well, The Astronomer’s Journal or the Messier Journal that can be found online: 

Though backyard astronomers may never discover a new planet or comet, a simple logbook, one could even say a space travel journal, in which a stargazer can document not only logistical notations but moments a record of awe stimulated by their night sky observations.

Format:  The Poetics of Nature
Amateur or accomplished writers drawn to writing poetry will find unending inspiration in nature. There are many styles of nature poetry. Whether you chose to write spontaneously or with purposeful intention, a genre study of nature poetry might be a good start. To mention a few great American poets for reference you might read:

  • Mary Oliver for poetry describing direct contact with the outdoors.
  • Emily Dickinson & Jim Harrison for a mystical, storytelling approach.
  • Walt Whitman, Robert Frost or Carl Sandberg representing a working class vision of man & nature in America.
  • A Beat generation perspective of nature, environmental politics and land use in the writings of Kenneth Rexroth, Gary Snyder  and Wendall Berry.
  • For a mythic approach, Denise Levertov and W.S. Merwin (Hawaiian rain forest poems, The Shadow of Sirius, poet laureate, 2010.

How: Find a journal or notebook that inspires or appeals and begin writing. You may want to copy favorite poems or lines of poetry as inspiration or reference on pages or margins. You may also consider a journal that allows for the removal of pages if you only want to include final editions of your poems. If you prefer records of poetry drafts you may wish to leave room at the end of the journal for final versions of select poems.


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