Nature Journaling in the mountains

At the Dory Hill Cemetery in Gilpin County

By Jaclyn Morrow

Summer is bursting with blossoms! We so appreciate the short time of year that allows us to enjoy the outdoors without excessive amounts of protection. The nice rains have given relief to the abundance of warmth from skies with few clouds. The heavy late snow has made everything so very green, some lighter colors of green and some darker. Yet, the range of weeks the different blossoms take at various elevations keep a variety of blossoms drawing pollinators to them and eager critters to graze on the abundance of flowers. July’s Nature Journaling exercise in observing with Irene Shonle, Director CSU Extension in Gilpin County on July 6th revealed many perennial and one annual blossoming variety.

Eight ladies gathered at Gilpin Co. Justice Center Parking lot at 9 am this past Thursday. We had been advised to bring our $5 for the class, water, a chair, and sketching supplies. Three of these Nature Journaling opportunities were scheduled this summer for June, July, and August. Each month has different blossoms to be discovered across the road going into Dory Hill Cemetery at the entrance nearest Highway 46. We were given common names, the Latin names (spelled) and encouragement to observe not just the plants, but the environment around it in our sketches and documentations. In the introduction, she encouraged “In Remo, I  notice… or it reminds me of…” Irene has introduced this process of documenting for what we find on our personal adventures based on recommendations from John Muir Laws, author of Nature Journaling.

When I went to, a statement from the overview really encouraged me to try this for myself, recognizing my own “art-phobic” resistant to sketching what I see. The goal of nature journaling is not to create a portfolio of pretty pictures but to develop a tool to help you see, wonder, and remember your experiences. This website also provides many free lessons and videos to encourage improving your images to look more like the subject you are seeing even when the critter moves. However, the whole idea is to get you to observe and record it so you can recall the experience.

I am quick to take a photo with my camera to remember my experiences as I walk, drive, live and wonder through our abundance of nature in Gilpin County. Most of us on this nature journey seemed to appreciate that there are more natural environments here than man manipulated spaces. I am learning there are other ways to capture a small portion in an image of my experiences other than pulling out my phone and getting my camera ready.

We began by walking about 50 feet to look at about eight different plants Irene identified. All were in bloom at the time. She gave common and Latin names for: Sticky Geranium, Shrubby Cinquefoil, Common Yarrow, Blanket Flower, Silver Lupin, Fendleri Sandwart, Harebells, and Hairy Golden Asters. Her questions helped us see what was going on with each plant: insects present, sun or shade, more blossoms coming or was it about finished and starting to produce fruit. We learned names of parts of the leaves, types of leaves, parts of the flowers and stem and root structures. Once these were identified, she modeled the blind imaging process and encouraged us to try it with five different plants. We were to spend about five minutes per plant. Then we were to go back and add the other sensory details, environmental conditions and details in our drawings that helped us remember it more distinctly. We were encouraged to stand back away from it after an up-close viewing to allow critters to approach. I was only able to complete three in the time we should have done five.

Next we were encouraged to observe different species she had not originally identified. We were encouraged to record our experiences with different species without the names. During this time I saw four different kinds of butterflies (one Irene named as the Holiday Swallow Tail, being large, pale yellow with black edges) and many different insects including lady bugs. She identified the bird we heard singing as a Warbling Verio. I discovered that the tiny white blossoms I was drawing did not actually have a red dot in the center of each of the five petals. The red was actually the male part of the flower, a pollen sack on the ends of the stamens. I wondered why was it red. There was much discussion with observations by each of the ladies in our group. We later learned the names of the new species we discovered and sketched.

Nature Journaling encourages us to document our entries with time, date, location and other conditions like weather, noise, critter presence, etc. Include all the senses: visual, auditory, texture of touch, smell, (and only if known to be safe) taste. We were encouraged to repeat this experience as often as comfortable, not expecting to find the same blossoms at the same time each year, with unpredictable conditions effecting development of plants differently.

To encourage us to be better observers, sketching what we see is highly encouraged. Looking more at the subject to be drawn, rather than our drawing utilizes the technic of blind imaging. Amazingly, by keeping the pencil on the paper to outline the subject, I was able to do well enough to easily recognize the leaf of the sticky geranium. I also now easily remember its name and other characteristics about it, from investing myself in observing and recording all my senses, not just visually.

We hope you will join us on the next Nature Journaling experience Wednesday, August 9th, from 6-8 pm. Irene has encouraged us to also bring something for the next session to add a little color to our sketches and documentation notes.

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