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 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

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.

Watercolor Turnips

Watercolor paintings of turnips
Art by students at Carlin Springs Elementary School

A recipe for July watercolors:

  1. Step out to the backyard garden.
  2. Pick a few turnips and bring bring them to school.
  3. Take out the paints, brushes, paper and containers of water.
  4. Look at all the different greens and purples on the plants. See how the leaves curve in and out. Which part of the turnip grows underground? Why is the root purple?
  5. Paint!

Could your paintings also show the soil, the surrounding plants, and the animals that visit the garden?

For more ideas for school projects in the garden, check GreenSTEM Learning by Mary Van Dyke.

And if you’ll be in Arlington, Virginia, in October attend the 2017 Virginia Agriculture Summit.

Sprouts

Sprouts

My daughter planted seeds and placed the pots in our kitchen window. They’ve sprouted! We forgot to label the containers, but we’ll recognize some of the vegetables by the shapes of their leaves. As for the others … oops! Expect a few surprises.

In April and May, I’ll join first graders to create art inspired by nature. One of the first things we’ll do is sketch the plants sprouting up at school.  The students love to remind me to “visualize.” It’s fun to close our eyes and think of a picture and then paint it! Here’s my painting of the salad I’ll eat — made up of vegetables grown in the next few months.

How do you imagine you’ll enjoy the outdoors this spring?

Summer Salad
Summer Salad | watercolor | copyright Liz Macklin 2016

I’m excited to hear from  Mary Van Dyke at Green STEM Learning about a group that shares ideas for school gardens and outdoor learning — the Virginia Association for Environmental Educators.

For information on caring for a backyard garden, I check the web site of The Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia.

And when I feel like sitting down with a book, I read about vegetables, herbs and their botanical families in Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison.

Looking forward to spring harvests!

updated: March 17, 2016