Nature Journaling to "Save the World"
Nature Journaling is a great way to cultivate mindfulness and find a sense of wonder in the world around you, allowing you to feel calm and joyful. It can improve your own life dramatically, but the effects ripple out and become so much more. When we have a deeper sense of place, we come to care more about that place, and feel more empowered to find ways to help our human and ecological communities. In my opinion, this is at the core of what nature journaling is all about – creating a better future for the environment we share and depend on.
There are others who think so, too. At the 2022 Wild Wonder Nature Journaling Conference, there was a breakout discussion called “Saving the World through Nature Journaling,” led by Marley Peifer. Nature journalers from around the world shared ways that they like to apply their practice to this deeper purpose.
Before I get into the specifics, I want to acknowledge that the idea of “saving the world” might not always be the best way to think about it. For one, it can be overwhelming. It’s a huge burden to carry, and the magnitude of it can easily lead to paralysis. It can also lead to a savior complex. This topic deserves more discussion, but we’ll get into it another day. For now, if the idea of “saving the world” feels empowering to you, great! If not, just think about whichever other term you prefer*.
I did actually record who said what for most of these ideas. I didn’t share them here for the sake of privacy, since it was a closed discussion. But if you would like me to credit you, please email me and I’ll add you in! (email@example.com)
Now, here are some practical suggestions for using Nature Journaling to “Save the World”:
One participant referred to her stewardship work as “APPLIED Nature Journaling,” and said that this helped her strengthen her personal connection to that place and find a sense of hope. She recommended creating pollinator gardens and going on backyard safaris.
At the time of the conference, San Francisco was experiencing an algae bloom that killed thousands of fish. Nature journalers helped by keeping tabs on the situation, recording their observations, and trying to figure out what was causing the problem. Most people are not paying as close attention as nature journalers, and monitoring the health of our local ecosystems is an important way to contribute.
Another participant uses the word “kin” in her nature journal, to refer to creatures as our “nonhuman kin.” This participant mentioned that they were nervous about using this word in their nature journal because they work with animals in industrial agriculture. But now, they feel more comfortable using the word “kin” to show the relationship of everything.
A naturalist from Washington state shared the Green Schoolyard Project, and also loves the idea of using “Boxy Critters” to get kids connected to nature, since it’s a simplified way of drawing animals.
One nature journaler mentioned that he enjoys participating in citizen science projects such as Frogwatch USA. This is a way to directly contribute your observations of nature to a larger set of data that professional scientists use to inform conservation decisions.
Another participant said “Everything I do needs to be more solarpunk,” and that nature journaling is a great way to embrace that social movement. She recommends the solarpunk novella A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers.
When it was my turn to talk, I surfaced the idea of Shifting Baseline Syndrome. This is, in my opinion, one of the most vital concepts of Conservation Biology. It’s the phenomenon that the environment is degrading right under our noses, but we don’t realize it because it happens at a slow rate. The ecosystems around us might be very unhealthy compared to the way they were a generation ago, but because we’re used to it being that way in the present day, we think of it as “healthy.” Our idea of the baseline has changed. So we’re losing aspects of nature without even realizing it. That’s why it’s SO important to learn the history of our place. What did it used to be like 50 years ago, 100 years ago? We can’t go back in time and return our ecosystem to the exact state it was in back then, but there might be elements that we can restore as we move forward into the future. We can start by restoring intergenerational community, and learning from the knowledge and wisdom of our Elders. The chain of knowledge that gets passed down is the bedrock of our sense of place.
Another person suggested using the term “ethnography” to research these histories. And someone else talked about history and how the land changes over time. She suggested looking for old maps and using aerial photos.
Another person said that she’s started teaching Nature Journaling at local land trusts and libraries. Even if you’re new to the practice, you can teach what you’ve learned to others. “Keep spreading it!”
Someone said that they are feeling excited about Buy Nothing groups. Buy Nothing is a global movement of hyperlocal gift economies, where people share with their neighbors and immediate geographic community. Participants are encouraged to give from their own abundance in a way that feels good to them (there is no obligation), and are also encouraged to ask for anything they want or need (it’s not a charity). People share physical objects, but also their skills, time, knowledge, attention, and stories. The purpose is twofold: to reduce pollution by consuming less stuff, and to create interdependent communities of people who care about and support each other.
One of the most important action steps suggested was to “Be consistent.” Change doesn’t often happen instantly, but the more we keep at it, the more helpful we will be. Choosing one project and sticking with it over time can be more impactful than working here and there on a bunch of different projects. (However, I also think we need to give ourselves the space to evolve. We are always growing and changing as we learn new things. The project or cause we feel most passionate about today might not be the project we feel most passionate about next year. It’s important to start with whatever next step feels right for us right now).
Let’s remember that Nature Journaling isn’t only about individual skill-building. What could you do to help “save the world” as part of your nature journaling practice? Is there something you already do, or an idea from this list that you’d like to try?
For me personally, at the moment I’m feeling especially curious about the Solarpunk movement. I’m also working on building community by being a leader in my local Buy Nothing group, where I’ve given the gift of some guided nature walks to teach people about wild edible and medicinal plants. And someone else from my group is teaching me how to mend clothes, so I can gain the ability to do minor repairs instead of having to throw things away.
Comment below to share your thoughts! I’d love to hear your ideas, successes, and challenges.
Have an adventure this week!
~ Rebecca 🌎
*I’ve been thinking about other ways to get across the idea of “saving the earth” that might be more useful. Here are some ideas (some of these only apply to specific contexts): stewardship, conservation, ecosystem restoration, creating a healthy world for the next seven generations, tending to the land, mending the land, taking care of your place, giving back to the Earth, living in right relationship with the land….
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