Just Between You, Me and the Gatepost: Caribou and Environmental Posers

This blog regards a local issue that is the topic of much backyard discussion, but one that may concern citizens everywhere who are facing unreasonable demands to lock up public lands on the pretext of protecting endangered species.  For more background on this issue one may go to press releases found here:  http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2011/nov/29/feds-propose-critical-caribou-habitat-idaho-washin/ and here: http://www.spokesman.com/blogs/outdoors/2013/jan/31/environmental-groups-sue-feds-over-caribou-habitat/

The following letter to the Editor was posted in the Bonners Ferry Herald Newspaper. I have next included a reply from a representative of one of the environmental groups discussed in the first letter.  After that you may find my comments.

Caribou issue rears its head again
•Posted: Friday, March 15, 2013 12:00 pm

Just when everyone thought the mountain caribou habitat controversy was solved and done with, here come the usual suspects muddling up the issue again.

The United Fish and Wildlife Service had trimmed the caribou habitat proposal on the Westside from 375,562 acres down to a more sensible 30,010 acres, so-called critical habitat to be set aside for the caribou.But that is not enough for several radical, hardcore environmentalist organizations, so they filed a formal notice of intent to sue to get their way. According to the under-reported story in the Herald, these groups include the Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Northwest, Selkirk Conservation Alliance, The Lands Council, Idaho Conservation League and Defenders of Wildlife.

By the way, the weak-kneed Herald called these organizations “conservation groups,” instead of labeling them as radical, hardcore environmentalist outfits.

Of course, after reading the insert “Sustainable Living” in the Herald, published by Sandpoint’s Daily Bee, I wasn’t surprised.
Talk about your new-age, hippie, tree-hugger bunch of propaganda; “Sustainable Living” makes Mother Earth News look like a right-wing shooting and hunting publication.

As usual, these despicable environmentalist organizations pull their hippie lawyers out and make a sneak-attack and outright ambush on common sense and reason. Any acres set aside for caribou habitat, even one road closed, and any other restrictions on the use of our national forests for a handful of Canadian caribou is ridiculous.

How much money will it cost the taxpayers to fight this frivolous, downright insane, lawsuit? Why are these groups so intent on locking us out of our own forests? Who are the members and supporters of these nefarious groups? Why are they so secretive and cowardly?There are so many questions that need to be answered on this subject. Had the Herald actually accomplished a complete and thorough reporting job, we would know the answers. However, our local so-called newspaper has become a joke, totally incapable of actually covering a story in-depth and intelligently.

I don’t know what is worse: radical environmental hippie organizations bent on locking up all of our land, or a so-called community newspaper that doesn’t report the news.

Remember, mountain caribou is the other white meat. We need more of them to feed the wolves, grizzly bears, lynx and wolverines. Too bad sturgeon, ling-cod and bull trout don’t eat caribou as well, then we would have the perfect remedy for all of this nonsense.
Tom Emond
Boundary County

Posted in Letters on Friday, March 15, 2013 12:00 pm.

Here is the reply:

Emond lacks understanding
Posted: Friday, March 29, 2013 12:00 pm

I take exception to Mr. Edmond’s letter of March 14, casting judgment on the Idaho Conservation League and other so called “radical environmental hippie organizations.”

I don’t take exception to Mr. Edmond having his opinion, but he casts judgment on the organization that I represent without first taking the time know and understand what we are all about. Since open letters are an open invitation, I’ll take this opportunity to share some information about the Idaho Conservation League.

ICL is actively involved in the Kootenai Valley Resource Initiative, where community stakeholders are working on forest management projects that support local jobs and improve forest health. Through KVRI, we recently developed recommendations for a timber sale in Twentymile Creek that will reduce the threat of fire to municipal drinking water supplies and deliver logs to local mills. We have two other such projects in the hopper.

ICL is about managing the land, fish, and wildlife using the best available science. Boundary County is the last place where nearly all of northern Idaho’s native fish and wildlife are still present. It is our goal to conserve caribou and other native species for the benefit of present and future generations of Boundary County and the State of Idaho.

If these things make me a radical hippie, then I’m happy to be one. As for Mr. Edmond, it’s sad that he would likely take pleasure in the extinction of caribou, but since I don’t know him, I will withhold casting any judgment.
Brad Smith


Now here is an expanded version of my own letter which was too lengthy to qualify for the 250 word limit.  I have posted it here for the benefit of my local community.

Just Between You, Me and the Gatepost

I read with interest the two letters to the Herald from Tom Emond and Brad Smith regarding the critical caribou habitat debate .

I don’t know Brad Smith and perhaps he is a well-intentioned person, but I do know that the organization he speaks for, the Idaho Conservation League, has made common cause with the Defenders of Wildlife (DOW) and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) in their suits over the caribou habitat.

There is no doubt that the Defenders of Wildlife has ties to some of the most radical environmentalists currently active at the national and international levels.  Not only do they have science advisory members, now and in the past, who advocate for the expulsion of humans from over one-half the American land mass–a program called the Wildlands Project—but they have ties to the Big Green groups such as the World Wildlife Fund and other groups who are known to remove local peoples from their lands while allowing huge corporations to exploit natural resources.  These same groups have CEO’s and other board members with ties to the World Bank and other powerful interests.  Their brutal treatment of human populations in Africa and Latin America is due to their anti-human, neo-Malthusian theories blaming human population levels for the loss of critical habitat.

The Center for Biological Diversity makes the claim on their web site that they are deeply concerned for the welfare of humans and that their concerns for the environment are linked to that perspective.  However, their actions speak louder than their words.  An article written October 31, 2011 describes the Center for Biological Diversity’s campaign to reduce population, tying their campaign to  concerns that every human born displaces members of endangered species.  This campaign, of course, was greeted with approval by the United Nations Population fund and Joel E. Cohen, chief of the Laboratory of Populations at Rockefeller University and Columbia University.   This stance reveals that they share the neo-Malthusian theories of their environmental colleagues.  See the article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/01/science/earth/bringing-up-the-issue-of-population-growth.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

In addition, the CBD sues to eliminate the use of hunting ammunition containing lead (isn’t that all of it?).  And the CBD lost in a lawsuit brought against them by one Jim Chilton, an Arizona rancher who charged that the Center lied and distorted the truth when making claims that he was damaging the environment.  These do not sound like the actions of people who have a realistic and compassionate view of human beings.

Mr. Smith points to collaboration with the Kootenai Valley Resource Initiative (KVRI) as evidence of constructive actions on behalf of our community, and especially cites work done on the Twenty-Mile Creek timber sale.  If it weren’t for crying, I’d laugh.  The ostensible reason for removing these logs is that there was a lot of downed timber that rotted and created fuel for forest fire.  One longtime resident of Twenty Mile Creek area tells me that no one was allowed to go in and cut up this downed timber for firewood, and so it just rotted on the ground creating a fire hazard.  The decision to give this important watershed over to the US Forest Service to manage and give a timber sale to select corporations, while destroying access roads, fits the pattern noted by many commentators on current environmental practices: that of forming partnerships consisting of governments, green groups and crony capitalists which lock the common citizens out of public lands while increasing government power and granting wealth to all partners involved.  If that’s a service to the community, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

I notice that the Nature Conservancy also has a seat at the KVRI table.  The Nature Conservancy is the largest and richest U.S. green group of all according to sources.  They are fabulously wealthy from buying lands from well-meaning persons and then reselling them to the U.S. Federal Government at exorbitant profits.  Many of these people have protested this resale of their lands, but this has done them no good.  The Nature Conservancy also benefits by drilling for oil and other extractive industry from the lands that come into their possession.  Like all of the green groups, they are fully cognizant of peoples displaced by their activities and have board members and associates originating from within the bowels of the World Bank and Goldman Sachs.

Indeed, all of the larger green groups have become wealthy from their frivolous lawsuits, and associations with crony capitalists and governments.  I have to agree with Mr. Emond that, unless you are in favor of their activities, you do well to avoid contributing to them.

I do, however, disagree with Mr. Emond concerning his charge that these people are hippies.  The majority are from elite families and had elite educations, then moved into lucrative positions as soon as they presented themselves.  They are more accurately known as yuppies, those who co-opted the hippie movement and became upwardly mobile.  It’s time we residents of Boundary County stopped despising one another and came to the realization that, whether you are an old hippie with a little piece of the backwoods and an organic garden, or a born and bred gyppo operator, you mean little or nothing to these people.

I’m sure there are many idealistic and well-intentioned people in these local, small green groups, but it’s time they looked at the men behind the curtain.

Furthermore, it appears that the critical caribou habitat issue may be a distraction, for right now anyway.  While we have been reading and worrying about that, has anyone told Boundary County Residents that there is already a plan to lock up 2.2 million acres of grizzly habitat in Idaho, Montana and N.E. Washington?  This plan has been in the works for years and will have grave repercussions for land owners in these areas.  In future blogs I will give more information on this subject.

Sara Hall
Boundary County, Idaho

Posted in Blog, Nature Writing, politics, Social Commentary | 2 Comments

On the Arts of Peace and the Devices of War

“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Over the last year, it has come to my attention that, while I have busied myself with the arts of peace, others have been secretly forging the devices of war.

One of the main reasons I write a garden blog is to help young families better provide for themselves.  By growing and preserving fruits and vegetables, they can protect themselves against skyrocketing food prices at the grocery stores and restaurants.  They can provide their children with wholesome foods without dishing out the prices of trendy foods with “organic” stickers that are like celebrity designer labels on clothing: they make something basic to human survival ten times more expensive than necessary.  By using their yards and lands, American families could exercise a certain amount of independence from manipulative markets and an unstable economy.

How could I have known that the moguls of power have decided that humans can no longer be allowed to own land—no, not even their own yards.  Who are “they?”  Who are these “moguls of power” of whom I speak?  They include the architects of United Nations Agenda 21.  They include members of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) such as the United States Forest Service, the Nature Conservancy, the United States Department of Agriculture and the Audubon Society.

According to their misbegotten ideas of a better world, we must all be required to live together in urban apartments such as those now boasted by crowded European cities, such as Munich and Madrid, where whole families live and reproduce like pet gerbils.

As a schoolteacher, I taught myself to draw wild plants and animals, and I developed a nature journal to use as a prototype for teaching children about the natural world. I did this so that they could take pleasure in satisfying their curiosity about the world around them.  I hoped to instill a vision in students similar to that of Leonardo da Vinci, both artist and scientist, whose sense of freedom and human possibility knew no bounds.

Meanwhile, self-appointed rulers of the earth have decided that regular human beings cannot be trusted to set foot on Mother Earth.  Allied with those environmentalists and educators who mouth platitudes about “culture being divorced from nature” they have conspired to lock American citizens (and people everywhere) out of the natural world.  Over two-thirds of the American land mass is slated to be roadless areas or buffer zones around those areas to which the average citizen will have no access whatsoever.  For more information, see this video: http://www.takingliberty.us/Narrations/introduction/player.html

These social planners and their influential friends, of course, will have these nature preserves for their own enjoyment and enrichment. (See “When Environmentalists Legitimize Plunder” by Michael Barker http://www.swans.com/library/art15/barker12.html).

I have invested considerable amounts of time and money in the study of herbalism so that I can teach American families to use plants that can be grown in their yards, or gathered inexpensively, to meet their health needs, where possible, without relying on expensive pharmaceuticals.  This has been the dream of many herbalists; I’m not the first.  Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) was ostracized by his peers for translating the Latin herbal monographs into English so that the peasants of England could meet their health needs with common plants that grew in the hedgerows.  As a trained herbalist, I have become aware of the need for vitamin and mineral supplements, as well as herbal supplements, now readily available to Americans.

Come to find out, not all citizens of the world are allowed access to these plant and vitamin supplements.  Recently, the owner of a health food store told me that clients from as far away as Norway and other countries are buying supplements in America that they can no longer get in their countries.  Why not?  Because the stellar lights of the United Nations have been diligently doing their part to curtail access to these materials.  The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations appointed the Codex Commission.  The Codex Commission has been formulating a piece of policy known as Codex Alimentarius.  According to Maureen Kennedy Salaman, President of the National Health Federation in 2005, the Codex Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses, was tasked with formulating the “Guidelines for Vitamin and Mineral Food Supplements.”  This ingenious bit of work defines what minerals and vitamins are deemed safe and the maximum and minimum amounts allowed in a product.  Codex Alimentarius defines to whom,  and in what amounts and circumstances, access to these supplements will  allowed.

According to Salaman, “The delegates that formulate the Codex mandates are government employees, bureaucrats and functionaries, most of whom seem to be indebted to, counseled by, and/or strongly influenced by the giant multi-national pharmaceutical corporations—the drug companies that want to monopolize and create pharmaceutical versions of the natural health-food and supplement manufacturing industries of the World.”  These corporations don’t want average people having access to these supplements for the same reason that the physicians of Culpeper’s day didn’t want him to make herbs accessible to the common people—they want to profit by having a monopoly over the  supplements needed to restore health.  They would drive the prices of natural substances up to equal the prices of pharmaceuticals.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has committed itself to bringing American regulatory policy into line with Codex Alimentarius, even though this violates current American law.  A hard-won piece of legislation promoting health freedom is called The Dietary Health and Supplement Education Act (DSHEA).  This bill was fought for and won in the interest of  guaranteeing American citizens free access to minerals, vitamins, herbs, and other supplements.  For a closer look at how Codex Alimentrius threatens the DSHEA go here:  http://www.thenhf.com/article.php?id=1642 .

The FDA is attempting to impose policy that is against American law, but then again, this is the situation with all of the above organizations that are trying to cram international policy down American throats.

In my own small way, I have tried to help build a better future for our children.  I devoted myself professionally to working with struggling readers in the Title 1 Program so that all children could be empowered to read literature and achieve their life goals.  As an English as a second language teacher, I introduced my students to the English classics and discussed major literary themes with them.  These themes often had to do with liberty, the natural rights of humans, moral law and, yes, even the existence of God.

I now find out that, through a federal takeover of education in public schools, the literature curriculum is to be decimated under the new Common Core Standards adopted by 48 states’ governors.  These standards were not decided on by state departments of education, nor state legislators nor even by governors.  They were formulated by international committees, organizations and corporations hoping to feather their own nests and further their own political agendas, including Agenda 21.

Those who are making war on humankind seek to omit the works of authors that have dealt at length with those themes and ideas that are obstacles to policies of totalitarianism.  By limiting the study of Western literature, which is founded on Christianity, and which cannot be understood apart from a knowledge of the Christian Bible, they will have the effect of eroding all memory of those precepts foundational to Western ideas of liberty.  Instead, they hope to inculcate a generation with the principles of global, green citizens.  This article from Fox News puts the dilemma well.

To learn more about why many Americans are coming out against Common Core Standards explore the Three Moms Against Common Core web site. http://whatiscommoncore.wordpress.com/.  Find like-minded citizens in Idaho at http://idahoansforlocaleducation.com/

While I have studied ways to awaken students to their great heritage and teach them how to think critically for themselves, others have studied how to manipulate information, control public discourse and eliminate local citizens’ influence over their children’s education. I have longed to raise a nation of free citizens, able to care for themselves and their children, while others have sought to create a nation of dependent consumers.  I have openly worked for peace, and they have waged war behind closed doors.

Having done all that I am able, my only recourse is to raise my voice against what is taking place, and add it to the tens of thousands American voices that are now lifted up in protest.

Our forefathers, the Founders of America, were dedicated to the arts of peace.  They loved classical studies and agriculture.  Washington and Jefferson especially loved to experiment with new crops and agricultural methods.  As we know, Franklin was innovative and inventive.  These men spent precious few years pursuing their own interests, however, when their country called them away to assist in the birth of the Republic.  The Founders had not the luxury of pursuing the arts of peace when their country was engulfed in chaos and war.

After Washington led the Revolutionary War, he longed for nothing more than to return to his farm and pursue his agricultural interests.  Instead, he was called again to duty—that of being the first American President.

There are so many things I would love to learn in depth; I love music, art, and languages. The arts of peace are lovely and virtuous, but our times of peace may be past for awhile. There is a time for peace, and a time for war.  May God Almighty help us to discern the times. If you discern that you, too, are called to take a stand, let us take comfort in the following scripture:

“No weapon formed against you shall prosper, and every tongue that rises against you in judgement you will condemn.  This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me, says the Lord.”
Isaiah 54:17

Posted in Agenda 21, Agrarianism, Blog, Herbalism, Nature Writing, Nature Writing, politics, politics, rural life, Social Commentary, The Garden | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Naming the Plants

Even though the snowy land still sits under a leaden sky, and fir trees stand in winter garb, I know spring must be stirring.  Yesterday, I saw a cricket on my bedroom wall and an ant scouting under the kitchen table.  I even notice the signs in myself; the sap seems to be stirring somewhere.  Memories of myself as a young woman break out and carry me to distant places.  I pull out my herbal seed catalogues.

Thinking back, I started learning about medicinal plants when I was eighteen years old.  I started out with Culpepper’s Herbal and a now-stained field manual.  When I was about twenty, I and my husband went to live on my mother’s farm in Oregon.  One early spring day, having read that nettles were good for the health, I went to a damp meadow on top of a hill above our farmhouse and clipped some young stinging nettles.  Taking them home, I gingerly tied them into small bundles and hung them on a clothesline above the wood heat stove to dry.

When my husband came indoors that afternoon, he went to stand by the fire.  “Watch out for the stinging nettles,” I warned.  He ignored me, so I repeated the warning just as he bumped into one of the herb bundles nose first.  He grabbed his nose like a bear and yelped.

A few hours later, a friend came to visit.  This time, it was my husband who first gave the warning about avoiding the nettles.  Our friend, who was very tall, kept walking back and forth past the place where the herbs dangled while he talked.  Again, warnings were to no avail, either from me or my husband.  Our startled friend was soon holding his nose and crying, “What is that?!”  My husband remonstrated with him and shared his own earlier calamity.  They both stared at me and the bundles of herbs as though we were equally offensive.

Some thirty years later, I ran into this same friend in a grocery store, and we stopped to chat.  Hearing that I had been studying herbalism, he told me he still remembered his unpleasant encounter with the object of my studies.  “I tried to warn you several times,” I answered. “I kept saying watch out for the stinging nettles.”

“But what does that mean?” he answered back.  “Watch out for the stinging nettles; who even knows what that means?”  That’s when I started to realize that I speak a second language: Herbalese… Planteranto…call it what you will.  Some people evidently find it unintelligible.

But no kidding, all plant lovers speak a different language.  There are different dialects of that language, to be sure.  Take for example, cottage gardeners who give their plants names like kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate.  This plant has a trailing blossom that resembles hennaed tresses that, with a little imagination, can be envisioned flowing over a garden fence.   Another cottage garden favorite is Baby Blue-Eyes, a tiny sky-blue flower that can be naturalized in lawns. Also characteristic of this romantic style is the Sweet William, with its assortment of valentine colors.

Wild plant lovers often give humorous names to plants such as Old Man’s Whiskers, named for its wispy, gray fruits that, when clustered together, look like low-lying smoke.  A plant might be named for its traditional use, such as Indian Hemp, which was used by Native peoples for cordage and fiber.  Or its geographical origin and medicinal use, such as Virginia Snakeroot, once used for snake bite, among other things.

Botanists, of course, use botanical nomenclature, but can’t resist attaching the names of fellow botanists who first recorded specific plants for scientific taxonomy.  When not using Latin, they might refer to a plant as Coulter’s Lupine, Fremont’s Monkeyflower, and Parry’s Primrose all named after other botanists.  

Turk’s Cap, Rabbit Shot, Rattlesnake Grass, Toothache Plant, Beadlily, Knitbone, Wild Sarsaparilla, Self-Heal, Arrowleaf Balsamroot, feverfew, Sneeze-weed, Farkleberry, Mountain Misery…: this is a litany of names that demonstrate the rich dialect spoken by wild plant lovers.

It is fairly well-known that the Victorians spoke a symbolic language of flowers in which the forget-me-not meant true love and the white violet bespoke modesty.  There was a flower dictionary of sorts featuring other flowers that took on cultural and social significance.  Evidently this flower language with its symbolism goes much farther back in history than many realize, and actually took on the flexibility of an actual language system, with an arrangement of flowers being able to communicate extended messages.  For more information explore the following websites:

It seems to me that the art of using flower essences for therapeutic purposes takes on some of this symbolic nature.  This healing art uses a sun-distilled flower essence to move a person from a negative, or shadow, self to a positive, or authentic, self.  For example, a person who is overly empathetic and nurturing, but has problems setting personal boundaries, so that she lets others drain her of vitality, might be encouraged to use prickly pear flower essence to move her to a healthier self that is able to set proper boundaries. The underlying rationale is that the prickly pear is a succulent and nourishing plant that is greatly desirable to creatures living in a desert habitat.  In order to protect itself from being completely consumed, the prickly pear has a natural defense system of spines and hairs that keeps predators at bay.  In the same way, those who feel excess responsibility for others need to learn self-protection by learning to say no at times and setting healthy boundaries.  Taking the essence of prickly pear flower is supposed to help the person make that change.

Is this symbolism?  Yes, of a sort, I’d say.  It is at least analogous thinking.  An empirical scientist would probably be inclined to discount the entire flower essence system.  Yet, I hesitate to do so, because nearly every experienced herbalist I have listened to insists that clients repeatedly report finding the inner resources to make changes after having used flower essences thought to correspond to their personality traits.

Bizarre?  Perhaps, but consider the Doctrine of Signatures. This doctrine was prevalent in medieval times when physicians thought that the physical appearance of a plant indicated its use for medicinal purposes.  For example, lungwort looks like a lung spotted with disease, so it was considered therapeutic for lung disease.  Well, as it turned out, it worked in that case.  Lungwort, or Pulmonaria, is still used for bronchitis and congested lungs.  Though the theory is not universally borne out, there are other examples of where the Doctrine of Signatures accurately predicted the medicinal use of plants.  One is the use of Lady’s Mantle for the female reproductive system because the leaves resemble the cervix.  Another example is the use of St. John’s Wort for healing wounds because its essential oil is blood red.  The Doctrine of Signatures theory, as well as religious symbolism, is behind these plant’s names and their uses.

At times, one almost perceives a permeable membrane between the physical world and human culture, if we study language as a cultural artifact.  The plant name, Sage, has entered human language to mean a wise person and is used as an adjective to describe anything that is wise, e.g. sage advice, sage council, etc.  It connotes wisdom gained through long life and/or experience.  The plant itself was observed by the ancients to bestow longevity and mental health on its users.  So what existed first, the observations about the plant’s benefits, or the word’s use as a noun or adjective denoting wisdom and experience, which was then bestowed upon a plant observed to grant longevity and mental health?  In what order did the word enter the language?  Perhaps the membrane has two-way permeability.

This question brings me to reflect on Lewis Mumford’s theory that the salient characteristic of human culture and civilization is not technology as tool-making, as is prevalently thought, but the development of a complex set of symbols standing in place of objects that we call language, and by which the natural world may be described.

These reflections on language and nature may not occur to ordinary plant lovers who, from time to time, put their hands into the soil.  But if two likeminded souls should find themselves working together planting and weeding on a sunny afternoon, they most likely will notice a certain satisfaction in talking about plants while their fingers seek out a weed’s root, or crumble soil around a favored flower.  They will likely name the plants to one another with secret pleasure:  stork’s-bill geranium, goosefoot, sugar bowl, goat’s beard, oceanspray….



Posted in Agrarianism, Blog, Herbalism, Nature Writing, Nature Writing, rural life, The Garden | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Nature Journal: Great Learning Tool for Children and Adults

A colored pencil sketch of Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)

Some of us just don’t like to read and write.  Perhaps you have a child who is a reluctant reader.  Not all people learn the same way.  If you have a child that likes to be on the go, loves to be outside, or likes to draw, try helping her/him keep a nature journal.  For a gifted child, a nature journal provides a way to integrate and develop multiple complex skills.  The sky is the limit.

Nature journals are adaptable to whatever needs your child has.  A nature journal can be taken with a child on camping, or other, outdoor trips.  The journal keeper can make sketches, diagrams, cut out pictures, make art pictures, and/or add photos or written journal entries on a regular basis to make the journal.  In my own journal, I made use of all of the above techniques.

Sample of using scrapbook materials and techniques to frame sketch of Bufo boreas, or Boreal Toad

The journal can be as artistic or scientific as you wish.  Or it may just be full of casual observations.  Anything goes.

The one requirement is that the child gets out into the natural world.  This can be a picnic on the lawn, a gardening session, swimming in the river or a simple walk.  Your family may go fishing, camping, skiing, or sledding.  It is best if you are able to accompany your child on these outdoors adventures.  Try to engage your child in conversation during the outdoors activity scheduled. Encourage him or her to record questions and observations in the journal.   Curiosity and persistence are the two most valuable learning tools out there.  Studies have shown that children who are curious, exposed to a wide variety of activities, and who have learned to be persistent in learning difficult tasks score higher on I.Q. tests.

If your child is artistic, provide field guides to draw insects, birds, plants and animals.  This is especially helpful if your child can look up plants, animals or birds encountered in the outdoors experiences shared.  In my own journal, I drew animal tracks, as well as local plants.   If you don’t have field guides, use images from the Internet, or library books.  Just remember, you can’t use other people’s copyright images for commercial purposes.  Usually, it is all right to use images for educational purposes, such as keeping a private journal.  Using scrapbooking supplies and papers can embellish the journal and appeal to tactile learners.

A useful technique to employ is the quick sketch.  This is a technique in which one just makes a quick drawing in less than five minutes.  One doesn’t worry about how well the sketch is done.  The idea is to capture what one sees, because things can change quickly in the natural world.  For example, making a quick sketch of cloud patterns is a good way to record a brief moment in the sky.

Sample of tracing around a pressed tansy plant, then filling in with fine-tipped marker. Background is colored pencil.

If your child is uncomfortable with drawing, he or she has other options.  One may cut out images and paste them into the journal, make diagrams, or take photos.  I even traced around some pressed plants with pencil, so that I could look the plant up later.  One can label the plant parts or make brief notes for later reference.  In fact, one could even press the plants between cardboard and paper towels weighted down with heavy books and then paste them into the journal.  I had my grandchildren make crayon rubbings of pressed plants and tree trunks to put into their journals.  If your child is interested in insects, he or she might enjoy cutting out images of insects to paste into the journal and label.  Try to include common and scientific names.  The same approach of cutting out images may be taken with plants, animals, fish or mammals.

Sample of use of images found on Internet to embellish the nature journal

Labeling diagrams and recording fun outdoor activities teaches writing skills, and drawing is actually considered an important skill for developing writing skills.  The more detailed a child’s drawings are, the more detailed his or her writing is likely to be.  So if your child is a reluctant writer, don’t feel frustrated.  The important thing is to get the child involved in the process on whatever level possible.  Sometimes, if the child isn’t old enough, or is reluctant to write, you may have her or him dictate to you, or collaborate with you, as you write down the journal entry yourself.

Combination drawing and scientific information journal page

Children with scientific interests may want to explore their interests on the Internet.  This is a good way to answer some of those questions a child may have generated, either in conversation with you, or in journal writing.  For example, he or she may be curious about what bears eat, or an older child may be curious about food webs.  An online search will turn up lots of information about different animals, or food chains and webs in wetlands, oceans, etc.  Field guides, Internet searches and library books encourage the child to read and learn research skills without realizing that they are doing schoolwork.

One may use photos in a nature journal. Here a pair of flickers take turns excavating the hole for their new nest.


All the writing doesn’t have to be scientific.  One may just record what one is doing or seeing or thinking.  Sometimes memories, or songs and poetry might come to mind.  One might be reminded, for example, of nature stories, such as the Irish tale about the female seal who could transform herself into a woman, and who was captured by a fisherman.  He was so in love with her that he kept her seal skin in a trunk so that she couldn’t leave him to return to the sea.  She, of course, longed for the freedom of the ocean. 

A child might want to record simple things, such as what her or his family did during an outdoors activity, and how she or he felt about the activity.

Keeping a nature journal is not only for children.  I taught myself to draw plants and animals one summer.  I also taught myself about animal tracks, the local ecology and food webs by keeping a nature journal.  It was exhilarating to get outside that summer, and my mental and physical health benefited as well.  If an adult keeps a journal alongside the child, it sends a message that the activity is valuable and sets you and your child up for shared experiences.

A summer spent keeping a nature journal with your child, can be something you and your child will always want to remember, and the nature journal can be a lovely memento of those shared times.


This is THE END, Folks! This busy fellow is finishing up the task of excavating the nest.




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