Saturday, July 9, 2011

Naturalist Field Notes

I was a part of a team who taught a Master Naturalist class on "Collecting, Preserving and Sharing". It is a 4 hours core class and required for certification. Most classes are 3 hours but because of it's importance it is given 4 hours.  The majority of the class room time was spent on Field Notes and Nature Journaling where we went over the various styles and our own experiences and development.  Then wouldn't you know it about a month later I learned about a new book that had just come out called "Field Notes on Science and Nature" edited by Michael R. Canfield with a forward by E. O. Wilson.  I wish I had read this book before hand because it is so informative and inspiring.

It sounds like a dry subject but contributors like Bernd Heinrich, Kenn Kaufman and Anna K. Behrensmeyer giving me their tips, it is anything but.  Each of the 12 contributors told their own story of finding the "right" format for themselves and how that developed.  They told a little about what they study but most importantly to me as a naturalist they told me "how".  Each one discussed the new technology and how the had written word fit in with those aides. The book even has photos of pages from their own journals.

I have been reading just a chapter at a time to savor each one and think about how I can use some of their techniques. 

When we taught the class I brought in my own current method to share which is using the Rite in the Rail Journal No. 390NF. This one has the numbered pages but you can get the less expensive one and number them yourself.  I have leaved that those numbers can come in vary handy when writing up an index in the back for future reference.   They also make a plastic covered one but it is stiff and just not comfortable to write in.  I found a tab to hold my pen from Staples that I attached to the inside back and this has been very handy.  Rite in the Rains books are expensive but they are brightly colored and easy to find and will last in all kinds of weather.  As I told the class maybe your notes won't be published after your death but they will become valuable to you and you are worth the expense.

Inside I taped half of a small envelope to become a holder of business cards of people I have met in the field. I also started a section in the back for contacts.  Another section in the back is devoted to locations with the full name, directions and coordinates along with my abbreviation. That way I don't have to write it all out each time I return to a new location and can just use my abbreviation.

This year I started a phenology notebook (Rite in the Rain field No. 353N) for the places I visit on a regular basis.  You can see the first page on wildflowers.  To the right I have the month with the day below. Then in the columns opposite the flower I have entries such as "SS" "B" which  means "Shannondale Springs" "Blooming".  Of course there a key at the beginning of this book as well.

Here is an example of an entry in an earlier book that is not weather proof and part of it is falling apart but it had a good drawing and the format I currently use. It try to leave a margin on the side for, well, side notes.  These come in handy when thumbing through the journal.

One thing that all the contributors to "Field Notes on Science and Nature" had in common was their recognition of the value of a personal narrative in their journal. Time and again they said that was what tied everything together and helped in making new discoveries as well as writing articles and books later on in their career.  I know I have certainly enjoyed reading back through my notes and often they have inspired me to go back to the same place and take a more studied look and something that I had only remarked on in passing the first time.  As my own experience and knowledge grow it is good to revisit with new insight and skills.  I also reread my own blog as a reminder of where and when I observed things and while I love the blog as a way of sharing I treasure my notes even more because the blog is written from the field notes.

Please feel free to comment and share your experiences, I would love to hear you. I also read some of your blogs and have enjoyed them and your own journeys and observations.


Trillium said...

Inspiring, and great examples you have given of your own work. You are truly a dedicated naturalist.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

What a wonderful record you have kept of your field observations! My blog has now become my record, and it's both fun and instructive to check back over the years I've been keeping it to compare growing seasons. It also reminds me to get out and look for plants that should be coming into bloom.

Unknown said...

Using the half envelop as a holder, staple tab to hold your pen - these are simple but effective ideas. Thanks a lot for sharing.