america's wetland guidelines for the art of journaling:  chronicling observations and experiences for memories and later reflection

First, you need a good notebook.  There are many types (go to a Hall Mark store, art store, etc.), but you can just use a spiral notebook if you wish.  I recommend you get something sturdier since you might want to keep it for the memories – and the science that you have noted.   You are advised to use a pencil, as it will not smear if it gets wet.   It is a good idea to keep your journal and pencil (and a sharpener!) in a zip-lock bag to keep it dry.

 Write daily!  Don’t put it off, because you will lose many of your thoughts.  It is advisable to make notes during the day on cards or a little note pad.  Or, simply carry your journal with you at all times – you never know when you’ll want to write.

 Most of all – have fun.  Journaling is relaxing and rewarding.  Don’t approach it as a task, rather it should just be enjoyable – a chance to spend time with your personal thoughts.  It is your journal, so you put in what you want.   Just be sure to cover all the topics required for the America’s WETLAND patch.

 Don’t know where to start?

  • Give yourself time to observe.  But, even brief observations can be very important.
  • Don’t worry about what to put down, just go!  Start with touch and scent.
  • Search for that cool natural world you’ve read or heard about.  Is it what you expected?
  • Write down questions that occur to you.  Remember – you don’t have to know everything.  You don’t have to identify every species you see (but it is good to make a detailed description – this sharpens your power of observation and will make you recall special moments later).
  • Try a contour drawing:  keep your eyes following edges while your pen moves along the paper.
  • What details jump out at you?
  • Study the big movements and small details.
  • What questions would you ask one of the creatures/plants you are observing?
  • What phrase captures this scene for you?  (ex., while watching a White Pelican, “I want to soar!”)
  • Quiet yourself and make a sound map of your surroundings.
  • Leave spaces for photos that you know you have or plan to take.
  • Use any raindrops that might fall on your journal to smear lines for effect.
  • Look beyond appearance and note behaviors.  Ponder why an animal is doing what it is doing.
  • Jot a quick poem or thought that captures your observations.
  • Explore flowers beyond the blossoms (i.e., “outside the box”).
  • Notice new details about familiar things.  Sit in an ordinary spot and find what is special there.
  • Use watercolor pencils to add highlights and details.
  • Have others add to your journal – include fellow travelers, new acquaintances, a fellow scout, etc.
  • Trace your steps along the trail with an event map (sketch the path with notes on what you saw, heard, smelled, tasted, and otherwise experienced).
  • Note changes in light, temperature, etc.  Why did it change?
  • Make journal entries at different times of the day.   You will have different reactions to your surroundings, and different things will be happening, at dawn, mid-morning, noon, mid-afternoon, dusk, and night.
  • Make journal entries while with a group, but be very sure to do it alone – especially sitting in a natural environment.
  • If you are playing catch-up in your journal, it is neat to do that in a natural setting by yourself.  This environment will elicit creativity in a different way from sitting at a table or with friends.
  • Reflect on how this moment relates to your life – past, present, and dreams for the future.
  • Use your journal to help you record the details of the visit to America’s WETLAND – personal experiences, quotes from friends, things you learn, etc.
  • Observe people closely.  People’s reactions to places, events, situations – good way to learn about human behavior and unique personalities.

  Suggestions for Focused Observation of America’s WETLAND: 

              Some things to consider:

  • Do something you know you cannot observe on a normal basis – something you will always remember.
  • Don’t wait until the last minute & don’t take anything for granted.
  • Take notes on everything because you will be amazed how little you will remember. .
  • Know well that your time on this visit to America’s WETLAND, especially your time alone focused in observation, is not an everyday experience!

 Animal observations:

  • Birds nesting – how many birds are attending the nest; what species; intervals between visits; how long in the nest on each trip; do they sit on the nest before or after entering; how long; is there a pattern to approaching the nest (do they always fly to a certain branch, sit, then enter the nest); are they visibly carrying food; are there any reactions with nearby nesting birds, etc.
  • Wasp nests or feeding on flowers
  • Hummingbirds visiting flowers or feeders
  • Fish in the bayou or estuary
  • Frogs
  • Various insects
  • Mammals
  • Etc.

 Plant observations:

  • Pick a given plant species or group and, as you walk along the trails, make notes on how many are found, are they in clumps or exist alone, are they in association with other species everywhere they are seen, any particular insects (or their evidence) always present, are they the same size if in sunlight vs. the shade, describe their shape and anatomy, etc.
  • Sit in one place and spend an hour describing the plant community in front of you.  Note variations in shapes and colors of leaves, whether there is fruit or flowers present, growth forms, presence/absence of defense mechanisms such as thorns, etc.  If you feel you are finished before the hour is up, move to another place and do the same.
  • Pick several obviously different wetland plant habitats and describe and contrast them in detail.
  • Observe organisms that are on plants.  Do certain animal species exploit particular plant species?  Do some live in harmony with plants?
  • Observe animal use and effects on plants.  Do they eat the leaves?  Do they use certain plant species for camouflage?  Do they nest on certain plants?

 Marine and aquatic observations (be very careful of water depth, currents, boat traffic, and potentially dangerous animals):

 Spend an hour wading in shallow water looking for critters and writing about them.  Snorkel for an hour and write observations.  Caution:  Your memory is only so good.  You might want to take several hours to do this so that you can snorkel for 10-15 minutes, then get out and write. 

  • Sit on a dock or shore and watch animals in the water below. 

 Thanks:  The basic framework of this document is from an exhibit at the Lookout Mountain Nature Center near Golden, CO, visited in 2002.  Dr. Bob Thomas’s and some of his student’s thoughts, especially Melissa Kaintz and Myra Hughey, have been included.