When I was an undergraduate (over thirty years ago), I spent a year working with Alex, the African gray parrot who was part of Dr. Irene Pepperberg’s research project on animal cognition. My experience with Alex included some unforgettable lessons. One of the greatest I learned from Beatrix Gardner, one of the researchers who taught the chimpanzee Washoe sign language.
While I’ve kept journals of all sorts most of my life, it took me a long time to realize the value of them isn’t just in writing them. I started journaling to record my experiences, but I’ve found them even more valuable since I’ve developed the habit of re-reading them.
I have been attracted to the idea of nature journaling all of my life. I see myself sitting in the wilderness, journal on my knee, binoculars in hand, sketching birds and painting little landscapes for hours on end.
I look at where I am now and think “I am not a nature journaler” because my nature journaling rarely looks like that. Frequently, I journal indoors, looking out a window. When I sit outside, it’s usually in my backyard. My journal pages are black-and-white, often messy, especially if I’m fortunate enough to be recording bird or animal behaviors. Many of my sessions are only a few minutes long.
I have a skull that I picked up in a field in Texas twenty years ago. It’s simultaneously big and delicate. It was found on a range where cattle graze, but I didn’t think it was broad and squat enough for a cow skull. Those who were with me agreed that it probably belonged to a horse. While I’ve drawn and painted it many times in the years since, I’ve never questioned that decision. I just assumed we were right.