Find some dirt

muir 2018

This quote from John Muir summarizes my perspective for the coming year, not only because it urges us to get into nature more, but also because it suggests that dirt can offer a rewarding and engaging experience.  Too often, too much, we expect neat, clean and orderly experiences.  Impossible to achieve all of the time, misleading much of the time, seeking to be always orderly and predictable can be far too limiting. This New Year’s Eve, I will be looking to release blocks that accumulated during 2017 and establish positive intentions for the coming year. I find great personal satisfaction in tying these to simple rituals involving the elements of fire, water, earth and air. Purge and cleanse with fire and water; establish intentions with earth—tie them all together through the cohesion of all four.  Make the transition from one year to the next significant and important in a way that is meaningful. Start the year with intentions that will focus action in a compelling and powerful way. Happy New Year!

Drawing Nature

I spent the day in Pepperwood Preserve, a conservation and nature study center in the heart of Sonoma County, as part of the California Naturalist Program certification. I’m taking the course at this location to learn more about this incredible natural setting in order to become more involved as a volunteer.

This first field session was focused on drawing skills—an important part of one of the naturalist’s key tools, a field journal. Now, I am not an artist, but that’s not so much the point. The act of drawing gives us the ability to capture key details of what we see in the field and emphasize key elements that strike us at that particular moment.

TR Charcoal sketch

A quick study across the senic vista. What I most like about this is that I used a piece of burnt log from the nearby fire pit to make the drawing. The 4 smudges in the lower foreground are fog collectors for climate studies.

Of course, being a huge fan of digital photography, I really appreciate my Nikon point & shoot. So ultimately, I find it useful to combine digital pictures with good field journaling, sketches, and detailed notes.

A most outstanding resource on the subject of field journals is The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling. John Muir Laws is just an outstanding and very personable resource with an excellent website. The book is really amazing and in depth. I’m taking it section-by-section.

My naturalist class urges us to use the “Grinnell” Method, developed by Joseph Grinnell (1877–1939), an American field biologist and zoologist. It is, to say the least, precise. Hopefully practice will make…well, not “perfect” but good enough. (To be mindful…)

Our field-records will be perhaps the most valuable of all our results. …any and all (as many as you have time to record) items are liable to be just what will provide the information wanted. You can’t tell in advance which observations will prove valuable. Do record them all!

~Grinnell, 1908


a drawing of the clouds and rain from the journals of Thoreau

I do find that this time-honored technique is an important part of the naturalist experience for the individual while also leaving an important and personal record.  Beyond simply recording data, field journals offer engaging and compelling observations and reflections that provide important context. I was just reading an article that quotes the field journals of Henry David Thoreau (also not necessarily artist), and I was struck by his boundless enthusiasm and curiosity as well as his detailed observations.

Towards the end of the session on Saturday, we stopped under this Bigleaf Maple, native from Alaska to southern California. (Yes, maple trees in California, big bold hardy ones, not those precious palmate maples.) The hills around us are dotted with splashes and zones of deciduous color right now—likely this tree. The patterns that appear indicated specific preferable growing conditions. Given the summer heat, these trees do best with some humidity, like the fog blanketing the area the morning we started, so I’m postulating that the specific and demarcated color splashes in the hills represent growth patterns defined by the effect of the fog rolling over and concentrating on the hills.

Bigleaf maple zone

An example of the color patterns of what I assume are deciduous trees in the hills of Pepperwood Preserve. Sadly, because of the ongoing effects we have had of Sudden Oak Death in the forrests here, some of us were wondering. Closer examinaton may be required.


Garden Omen

Gardens are always a source of delight to me, ever more so when there is serendipitous nexus with nature. Discovering this mantis on the wall near the garden offered what seemed like an omen.

OMEN: An event regarded as a portent of good or evil.

Being this creamy color indicates the insect has just molted, which they might do up to 10 times in their average life span of 1 year.

Given that this year has been one of transition and reorientation, I’m taking it as an homage to change and transition, evoking the literal “molting” of a recent move and the psychic “molting” of reorienting more of my attention towards my avocation of helping organizations build opportunities for people to engage with nature.

How does it inspire you?

More from National Geographic on the praying mantis.

Nature’s Classroom

Hands-on learning in nature offers exceptional benefits to childhood (& adult!) development. This video from the PBS News Hour features the nonprofit Chippewa Nature Center in Midland, Michigan. There is a bit more handling of nature than I might allow in my sessions with kids (not every creature does equally well when handled), but I endorse the goals and approach overall.

Screen Shot 2017-08-17 at 11.13.39 PM

In the age of standardized testing, screen time and what some see as a generation of excessively coddled children, a new movement of preschools is pushing kids outdoors, come rain or shine, heat or cold, to connect with nature and learn to take measured risks, in addition to math and the ABCs. Jeffrey Brown reports from Midland, Michigan.

Eclipse much?

On Monday, August 21, 2017, all of North America will be treated to an eclipse of the sun. The lunar shadow first hits the U.S. on the west coast (at the Oregon coast) just about 9AM (PDT).  NASA published a *great* map showing the track and the percent of the sun’s area covered by the moon from the perspective at various geographies.nasaaugust1totalsolareclipse

For awesome resources, check the NASA Eclipse 2017 resource site.

Remember: The only safe way to look directly at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun is through special-purpose solar filters, such as “eclipse glasses,” so be careful. Here are some excellent resources on how to safely look at an eclipse.

What then of idle blogs?

If idle hands are the devil’s workshop; idle lips are his mouthpiece. (Proverbs 16:27)

grading garden path

Grading a garden path in our backyard for landscaping.

Voltaire in Candide muses that “tending one’s own garden” keeps us focused on matters at hand. What a joyous thought—having a garden to prioritize—a civilized and productive activity. Of course, being a French Enlightenment philosopher, he meant something well beyond the literal. Essentially, at its core the quote references the value of minding one’s own business, but I’m using it here to emphasize the importance of tending to what is personal and relevant without being distracted by the ever-growing flood of diversions and inferences that inundate us.Candide

The specific quote that inspires Candide’s reflection is uttered by “the good old man” who speaks:

I have no more than twenty acres of ground, the whole of which I cultivate myself with the help of my children; and our labor keeps off from us three great evils—idleness, vice, and want.

Again, what a delightful image. And, after my misspent youth, on the cusp of the beginning of my 56th year, I think it wise to circumvent idleness, vice, and want.

I believe birthdays are a great time to make milestones, make transitions and start new initiatives and adventures, so, after a period of very practical but more mundane undertakings related to relocating, I’ve been able to plan for an re-invigoration—perhaps a gentle tilling—of my naturalist activities.