One of the lessons I learned from Nature Journal July was “less is more.” While I gave myself permission to do just ten minutes a day, it took me most of the month to appreciate the value of short journaling sessions.

I filled this page in 15 minutes.

I was well aware that it’s easy to do too much, even with something as enjoyable as nature journaling, which is why I gave myself an upper limit of an hour. I quickly discovered that some days even an hour is too much.

Why are shorter sessions better for me?

How I feel about nature journaling often depends on how my last session went. If I made an interesting discovery or observation, I come away energized and excited to do more. If I got frustrated or tired, however, it’s harder to be enthusiastic.

Since I can’t guarantee I’m going to make an exciting discovery, I have to focus on reducing my frustration and fatigue. So I decided to quit while I was ahead. I tried stopping while things were going well, before I was done. This proved difficult but effective.

During one session, I watched a sleepy bald eagle on a live feed cam for 27 minutes. After I filled two pages, I was tempted to keep going, but told myself that was enough. I came away from the session energized and excited, eager for more.

While I allowed for ten minute sessions in July, I usually worked much longer. I had an unspoken belief that real nature journaling requires hours in the wild. That kind of expectation makes it much harder to convince ourselves that ten minutes in the backyard counts.

Fortunately, what counts is whatever we say counts. Period. If we say five minutes is enough, then it is. It’s surprising how much you can notice and record in just five minutes.

Short sessions allow us to take advantage of unexpected opportunities, like making an observation from the kitchen window, or jotting some notes after going for a walk. They can also make a daunting task manageable.

This long session with bindweed made me aware of the plants, leading me to the question of when they open and close.

I recently noticed the bindweed in our yard closes its flowers before the sun goes down. While I want to know exactly when they open and close, I don’t want to spend hours in the yard waiting. Instead, I am making snapshot observations. Whenever I get the chance, I look out the window and take notes: time, temperature, light conditions, and how open the flowers are. It takes me less than a minute to jot these details down. With enough random samples, I will eventually answer my question.

No pretty pictures, but this is nature journaling, too.

My brain still holds on to its nature journaling ideal: to be out in the wilderness somewhere for at least a day, journaling about everything, making pages as beautiful as the scenery. Maybe I’ll get to do that one of these days. In the meantime, I’ll keep playing with short sessions, quitting before I feel done, and seeing how much I can discover in little bits of time.

Because, in the end, what matters isn’t how I nature journal, but that I nature journal.

Do you nature journal in short or long sessions? What works best for you?

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