by Joli Reynolds, Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation
As an environmental educator, observing nature is a big part of my job. But despite a lifetime of practice and nearly 15 years of professional experience, I think I’m still not very good at it.
What does it take to be an expert observer? I think that watching and listening and is good, but to really see something you should create.
For me, it all starts with a “sit spot”. This is a place to sit quietly and observe what’s happening in front of you. A favorite park bench or your back porch works just fine. For me, it’s the back patio at Quest. I go out there almost every day to eat my lunch and watch the birds. The great thing about this routine is that over time you notice changes in the activity from day to day and season to season. In the spring, a pair of bluebirds nested in the box at the edge of the tree line. Over the summer, green anoles dashed across the sidewalk and up the siding. This fall, I’ve enjoyed the brilliant contrast of clear blue sky and saturated shades of oak and sweet gum leaves.
While a sit spot routine is a good start, I find that engaging my creativity supercharges my observation abilities and the power of my connection with nature.
I have this strong desire to be really good at nature journaling. I want to draw colorful little sketches of things I see, label their parts, and write meaningful phrases -- all with some expensive colored pencils and pens. I wish I had pages to upload here to share with you of dainty bluebells and brilliant cardinals that I’ve drawn over the years, but sadly, I have none of that.
While I’ve not put in the effort to become a self-identified artist, I have found a different approach to nature journaling that works for me. I can’t paint or sketch a picture that pleases me, but I think I am pretty good at using words to create the mental image of whatever inspires me. Below is a sample from something I wrote last winter for a journaling workshop I did online and some photos of the scene.
A fallen queen of the forest lays sprawled beside the trail, her branches still reaching -- but why? No leaves nourish them and so sun shines on them. The wet of the day soaks her bark into a dark, desaturated hue all along her twisted body. But desolate she is not. Adorning the surface of this decaying ruler of a forest gone are stripes of shelf fungi. At first glance you see repetitive patterns of the same, but on closer inspection a whole world of diversity reveals itself. Turkey tails with their reddish rings, plump polypores, crusty lichens, and tiny liverworts keep company with the queen as she slowly melts into the land that produced her.
Can you picture it? Here's some of the lovely fungi I found encrusting that old, fallen tree.
What creative skills do you have that you can use to supercharge your own observation skills? We’d love you to stop by and share the results with us!