Article 38 : Nature Diary

Hello!  How are you doing?  I cannot quite believe it is February already.  Been tough hasn’t it?   Does make you wonder how people coped during wartime – ‘over by Christmas’ then all the uncertainty merging into six long years.  Probably then, as now, some fared better than others in every respect.  One thing I have discovered is that spring is a time of hope and that in fact living your life with an eye to the seasons themselves is no bad thing.  Perspective helps.

Do you remember last month, I told you I’ve started a nature notebook, inspired by my reading?  Well I thought you might be interested to know how it’s going.  I started in January with a lovely clean nature journal, lines one side and blank the other for artwork (I use the term loosely.).  It’s not an everyday journal.  In fact there are no rules.  I just fill it in about once a week.  Some entries are notes, some longer more reflective prose.  Some art work consists of pencil sketches of birds – (Discerning friend: well you can see it’s a duck!)  Others are mini landscapes like that of Silksworth Lake and the rushes at the water’s edge that were acting just like net curtains to the sunset.  Still others are tiny cut out maps of my walks pasted in next to journal entries.

I discovered during the Life Languages course that I was primarily a contemplator.  No surprise to others there but for the first time maybe, I felt comfortable in my own skin.  I used to think that I wasn’t really much use in the church because all I really did was think.  What’s more, I often started things that I didn’t finish.  Now I realise that God has made me curious about much and with a little discipline, I can be interested in many things and choose to pursue them all or leave some of them for another occasion.  I AM a finisher.  Starting a new diary on the first of January would have quickly become yet another unfinished fad. Not now.  Another thing I have learnt all about is Elastic Habits – that’s the discipline bit.

So imagine a 3 X 3 grid.  Why not draw a blank one now?  Go on.  Humour me.  They’re amazingly powerful.  Put three labels down the left hand side for each row.  Mini.  Plus.  Elite.  Now next to them in the first column choose a mini task.  For my nature diary that’s write a one minute observation.  Working across the grid, the next column mini is draw something you saw and the final one is copy and paste in a map.  Nothing in the first row can last more than a minute.  Plus entries are a little longer.  Write 100 word observation, draw for 5 minutes, label your map with waypoints.  Get the idea.  Elite entries are for when you have more time.  Write a detailed account of a walk.  Draw and label a plant you have seen.  Add detail to your map of interesting things to see, adding notes on distances, weather or what’s in season.  Elastic habits for this project mean you only commit to a minimum of 4 minutes a month.  Easy.  Gone are the negative feelings of started but never finished.  I can always do four minutes.

I’m very excited about Elastic Habits in general.  Best not to try and grow more than 3 at the same time.  The cool thing is to link them to your values.  Drawing is very therapeutic and a great de-stressing activity for lockdown.  Even if you are gifted with some writing ability, it comes in seed form, so if you are trying to develop the habit you’ll benefit from practice.  Three habits for the price of one with my nature diary in developing a genuine curiosity about the amazing world in which we live.  Elastic habits work for everything I guess.  Whatever you are trying to develop in living intentionally, whether it’s cooking or bible reading, why not try it?

I have about half a dozen Nature diaries that I dip into regularly, but my favourite is ‘Diary of a young naturalist’, by Dara McNulty.  Dara wrote it when he was 16.  He’s a naturalist, conservationist and activist from Northern Ireland.  It is passionate and beautiful.  It is interspersed with reflections from his family and school life.  With the exception of his father, a conservation scientist, Dara himself and his mother and two siblings are all autistic.  He describes his family as ‘close as otters’ and ‘pretty formidable’.  Last year Dara won the Wainwright prize for Nature writing which is a fabulous accolade for a young person.  Do try and find a copy.  It’s very readable, humerous, deep, warm and powerful.  You’ll be inspired.  It’s not all about nature.  If you work with young people it will have much to teach you.

Another inspiration for me has been David Attenborough and his Planet Earth.  I was totally entranced lately by ‘Water’, where he showed how ants behave in the Amazon when it floods.  Picture a little hill of wriggling ants, the queen in the centre as the water rises and floods the ant hill.  They survive by clinging together and protecting their reproductive member.  On film, just as one tiny ant was in danger of being swept away, my heart in my mouth I watched as its nearest neighbour reaches out a leg and hooks it in.  Clinging together they float on in the rising waters and survive what would otherwise be a disaster.  What a lesson to us all.

Then there’s the ‘cock-eyed squid’.  What?  I know.  Never heard of them either.   They apparently live in the twilight zone of the ocean, where sunlight barely filters through.  Their eyes are identical at birth, but over time the left eye becomes considerably larger than the right.  Scientist have deduced that the squid uses its smaller eye to look into the darker depths and its larger eye to look up to the sunlight.  What a lesson to us all in the darker days we are experiencing.  This information was an illustration from ‘Our Daily Bread’, a daily bible reading system I have used for years.  It illustrated how we benefit on setting our gaze on things above.

I think that’s the point for me in all this.  We live in an amazingly intricate world in many respects.  Why devote precious time to a nature diary?  Well, I think the world in which we live has much to teach us if we have an eye and an ear to listen.

by Jean Wilson #4, 25/02/2021