Nature Journals ~ Identify That Plant!

leaves and acorns drawn in pen and ink, copyright Liz Macklin 2021

In master naturalist training we identified trees by looking at their shape, bark, leaves and seeds. While hiking near Barcroft’s bog, we found oaks and poplars growing tall above a thriving poison sumac. Be aware, and if you’re in doubt about a plant, don’t touch or taste! Poet Jacqueline Jules stresses the importance of learning our plant IDs — and watching out for poison ivy!

Identifying Ivy

by Jacqueline Jules

I beg you. Reconsider
preconceived notions
and identify the difference.
 
Three together. Mitten shaped.
Small stem on the center leaf.
Pointed tips. Shiny. White berries.
 
Not the same as Virginia Creeper
and its cluster of five.
 
Do a little research. You’ll find
most are harmless. Don’t despise
every green vine gracing the path
because one or two
produce a nasty itch.

“Identfying Ivy” copyright by Jacqueline Jules — printed with permission of the poet

Read more poetry by Jacqueline Jules at Metaphorical Truths.

For help with identifying plants and animals, submit a photo to INaturalist. Researchers and citizen scientists (and even people like me!) use the posted data to learn more about our world.

In the Washington, D.C. region Alonso Abugattas posts observations about animals and plants and answers questions on his blog, the Capital Naturalist.

Nature Drawings & Poetry

Summer — Silence

Winter would seem to have a lock silence — 
the snow quieting the fields across the countryside, 
muffling even big city sounds and rounding off rough edges.

But silence is big enough to hold all seasons, 
and has a special place for summer — 
ocean, waterfall, and subway tunnel, yes,

and not only on top of whatever barns remain
on prairies or in mountain valleys —

but deep in the city, up on the tar beach rooftops 
of Manhattan, 

Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx —
maybe even Staten Island.

Where a kid goes to hear the stars,
their voices need no words.

from The Four Seasons by John Clarke

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is macklin_armnjournal_feb4_2021_lowres.jpg
Leaves | pen & ink with watercolor & pencil | copyright Liz Macklin 2021

Only a few weeks ago, I met a group of Arlington Regional Master Naturalists to talk about journals inspired by nature. To prepare I headed to Barcroft Park, the site of our March field trip. The trail, covered with February snow, wound past a seep bordered by tall trees. Quiet prevailed.

Our leader Jan had pointed me to the work of John Muir Laws, biologist, artist and journal mentor. Laws advises beginners to include numbers, words and pictures in journal entries. Near the path, I found a branch with dry leaves. It was just the right place and just enough of a specimen to start my notes. I recorded time and temperature. I described features like color, shape and location, and I finished a quick sketch.

Jan stressed that journals can be exclusively written work, too. That brought to mind autumn meetings with a group of poets and visual artists at Fort C.F. Smith Park. The year? Possibly 2004. My friend John Clarke shared a poem at each session. I thought of John, as I heard rumbles of automobiles and leaf blowers and beyond that, the calls of crows and the trills of other birds, perhaps sparrows, in the trees above. Further up the path, I reached the playground of a school deserted through the winter — a pandemic silence, broken only by brief tapping by a woodpecker.

Taking in the sunshine, I decided that the best journal was one that you enjoy working on!

Read the complete text of John Clarke’s The Four Seasons

Everyone Can Make a Book

Start with an idea and a piece of paper, and you have the beginning of a book. Fold the paper in half. Then draw or write or create secret code or mark with musical symbols. It’s your idea, so express it in your own unique way.

Interior of child's book showing a person and a house with a tall chimney

Colored paper adds pizzazz! Don’t forget that paper has two sides. Be sure to remember the name of the author and illustrator.

The cover of a child's book showing a handwritten name, Alex

Stories can be told in many ways, and the tale might change each time. Young children often like to make audio recordings of stories. Adults who want to help might also write down the words.

You’ll find a million ways to embellish and add to your books. Check back and we’ll look at a few of them here.

A child's book with a figure that has a pop up nose and long arms made from paper. The text says, "He help other."
A a child's book with a figure embellished with a pop up nose and paper hair, arms and legs. The text says, "I am rober forever."
The cover of a child's book decorated with a rectangle of corrugated paper. The text says, "the Book UV the."

Silly Drawings!

If viral news is getting to you, take a break from work, school or washing everything in sight. Try blind contour drawing! I guarantee that you’ll create something strange and probably funny. Here’s my sketch.

I’m right handed. I drew with my right hand but made the entire sketch without looking at my paper. You can do it, too. All you need is something to draw, a piece of paper and a pen or pencil. I used a pen.

Step one: Place the tip of your pen at a spot on the inside of your paper. Then look at what you want to draw – the subject.

Step two: Focus your eyes on a point at the edge of your subject. Now move your gaze ever so slowly along that edge. Move your pen at the same time, noting every dip and variation that you see before you. Look only at your subject. Do NOT look at your drawing.

Step three: Follow the contours, moving in and out, all the way around your subject. You may draw both inside and outside edges to make a complex network of lines. Remember, go slowly. Keep your pen on the paper, and do not look at your drawing!

Step four: When you have finished, look at your paper. What do you think? I love the surprise of seeing what I’ve drawn.

As you do more drawing, you might change your process. Allow yourself to look at your paper now and then. Focus on the contours of your subject, but from time to time check the location of your pen. If you need to, lift your pen and move it.

When talk of viruses or social isolation gets you down, have some fun. Contour drawing is easy. It’s guaranteed to be silly, and you can share the results online!

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This approach to drawing was made popular by Betty Edwards in her book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

Copyright Liz Macklin 2020

Dream and Design!

Put on an architect’s hat. You might discover a place filled with patterns and colors.

A place for friends.

A place for a party — with pets.

Cartoon of dog drawn by student next to a photo of dog. Both are placed near a round table with paper "food."

A place for quiet thoughts.

Small figured drawn by student and placed in an "alcove" created by tiny boxes.

A place to dream.

The children at Carlin Springs Elementary School created these designs in after school art club. Materials included recycled boxes, plastic lids, ribbons, beads, pipe cleaners, colored papers, markers, stickers, tape, glue, paint, and photos.

Often we look at books from the public library for inspiration. For younger children, you might read Home by Carson Ellis or In a Blue Room by Jim Averbeck. For older children, I bring out a book I bought many years ago, Houses by Piero Ventura.  We design by drawing, cutting, folding, and gluing until our homes are complete!

Student holding stickers and working with an assortment of materials on the table.

Painting the Rain Forest

If you were an animal in the rain forest, would you be a butterfly? A toucan? An iguana? A jaguar?

Rain Forest Backdrop
Rain Forest Backdrop by Carlin Springs students | tempera on muslin

In art club after school, Carlin Springs students painted a wild setting for the spring play. They discovered inspiring scenes of forest canopies in books from the Arlington County Library, including Little Kids First Big Book of the Rain Forest by Moira Rose Donohue, The Amazon by Tom Jackson and What’s Up in the Amazon Rain Forest by Ginjer L. Clarke.

Students wrote the script and acted as animals alarmed by changes in their habitat. Katie McCreary and Ashley Hammond of the Educational Theatre Company led the writers and directed the performance — all in the spirit of learning through the arts!

Winter Birds

North American Birds Drawn By Fifth Grade Student
North American Birds | By Fifth Grade Student

With sleet and snow blowing across Arlington streets, the birds have disappeared from sight.  Looking for inspiration, kids in art club discovered the Audubon Society’s North American field guide. Their imaginations took off with drawings of colorful owls, finches, hummingbirds, tanagers and flamingos.

Winter Birds Around My Home published by the Iowa State College Extension Service
Winter Birds Around My Home published by the Iowa State College Extension Service

In a box with books from my childhood, I found a paperback published in 1948 by the Iowa State College Extension Service. It includes information on 24 birds with drawings and instructions for coloring.  Never miss an opportunity to use your color pencils!

On the crow, authors Thomas Scott and George Hendrickson wrote, “The ability of this crafty creature to perform such misdeeds as eating bird eggs, pulling corn and the like is due to its high degree of social cooperation. Although these birds are with us all year they are seen at their best in the large flocks which form in groves during the winter.” (page 20)

I hope your neighborhood is full of feathered neighbors. It’s not too late to put out birdseed. This handbook says cardinals prefer to feed off the ground and like seed plus a little fruit and insects.

Poems and Snow

Do poets wander alone “scribbling in notebooks, peering across moors, feeding ducks…?” In  “Mary Oliver and the Naturesque,”  Alice Gregory suggests that Oliver writes and invites us to ramble with her. As the poet says, “the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting.”

So … yesterday I wandered. After watching reports of far away blizzards, I followed sidewalks dusted with snow. It was my first time out taking photos, because last October I chipped a bone in my foot. Since I am just beginning to paint again, I’m posting this sketch.

Duck
Duck | watercolor | copyright Liz Macklin 2018

Gregory’s article appeared in Poetry magazine on February 16, 2011.