By Margit Codispoti
Until I discovered Clare Walker Leslie’s books, I had not considered that keeping track of what I see in my backyard or on a walk is nature journaling. Now, I’ve realized that when any of us keeps a list, writes notes, makes sketches, takes photographs, picks up leaves, presses wildflowers, or writes poetry about our discoveries, we are already nature journalists at heart. Many of us have not gone to the extent of drawing and illustrating our sightings or putting everything together into a journal; but perhaps after perusing Leslie’s books, we will be inspired to do more sketching, painting or picture-taking to include as part of our recordkeeping.
Books by Clare Walker Leslie, some co-authored with Chuck Roth, are an inspiration to go the next step — to consciously journal our experiences with nature. Her book Drawn to Nature: Through the Journals of Clare Walker Leslie (2005) is essentially a selection of her personal journal pages. She encourages us to ask “what’s going on out there?” and then to record what’s observed. By providing readers with excerpts from her journals, Leslie shows how she uses a combination of quick, impressionistic watercolors, more detailed pen and pencil drawings, quick sketches and notes jotted in her margins to do her journaling. Since nothing is “perfect” on her pages, her techniques inspire us to believe that we too can create a wonderful personal nature journal.
Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You (2000) is more instructional and uses the methods Clare Walker Leslie and Chuck Roth have developed over years of journaling teaching. With its simple methods for capturing what we see in sketches and words, the book inspires readers to make journaling a part of their daily life and create journals to enjoy for years to come.
Nature Journal: A Guided Journal for Illustrating and Recording Your Observations of the Natural World (2003) provides a book in which to get started journaling although it is much more than simply blank pages. Leslie provides a unique book where text and illustrations offer just the right amount of inspiration and guidance to help the journal-keeper begin and succeed in creating a personal nature diary. She includes a few sample pages from her own journal as inspiration. At the back of the book is Leslie’s mini-field guide, packed with essential information on how to recognize and draw basic families of birds, insects, and trees.
Creating a Bird-Watcher’s Journal (1999), currently out-of-print, is a mini version of Leslie’s other books especially directed to journaling about birds. For someone interested in sketching birds, it is worth searching for a copy.
Of course, Leslie’s ideas are not new. Most well-known naturalists have kept journals — Roger Tory Peterson, John J. Audubon, Beatrix Potter, Teddy Roosevelt, and John Muir to name a few. But what I found in Leslie’s books is the encouragement to do more conscious journaling and I hope others will be inspired by her books as well.