10, 20 ,30, 35 Years Ago...
Reflecting on 10 years of helping creatively connect humans with the natural world reminds me of my first memory of journaling, while traveling -
Circa 1992, my mind was blown open by the reverence and vastness of the night sky.
I, a privileged american adolescent, sat on the deck of a sailboat in the middle of the night with a Guna guide, tuned in every sense to the Guna Yala islands, off the coast of the land now called Panama, within which we were lucky to be sailing.
Our mouths didn't speak the same language, our histories were vastly different. But together in our cells and our shared history of being human, silently we felt what it means to be a small creature on Earth wowed by the beauty of the vast sparkling sky that we silently gazed up at that night. The reflections in the dark sea twinkling as small waves lapped the hull in the warm summer breeze.
I was 15 years old with a first love broken heart. The only way I could think to process the immense feelings (of wonder and awe for nature, for love, for loss, for...) I was having at the time was to pour it all out in a letter to a friend.
Wonder, awe, processing - that vocabulary is added to the memory in retrospect with the bit of wisdom 30 years provides.
I didn't have the time or words back then to process the long lasting impact and boons that nature and the fortune to experience responsible travel at a formative age were having on me that night.
Do I even have the vocabulary now? Maybe sometimes...
...But more often images, ephemera, and music are how I assimilate and process experiences and feelings.
But sometimes the feelings and the power of a place and nature are like a geyser, and they have to explode out - NOW.
Sometimes it's pitch black night (or your scissors & glue are packed) and making a college or sketch just doesn't work.
In those times, a free expression of feelings onto a page with no consideration for spelling, lines, or punctuation is what the moment calls for.
Needless to say, travel nature journaling is VERY close to my heart.
While other times a painting from a travel photo from the comforts of home fits the bill. The beauty in travel nature journaling is that anything and everything goes!
The main guideline is staying open to the wonder and embracing the growth that immersing into (different-to-you) nature and culture offers.
"Above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you, because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places."
Listen for the whispers
I often find while traveling that it's the small things that make the biggest impressions, rarely the places that the guide books tout.
Like how in Oaxaca City discovering a watermelon vine growing out of a sidewalk street grate, was followed by my imagined scenario of someone enjoying a delicious juicy slice of watermelon and spitting the seeds.
The bounty of that (real or imagined?) moment in time, witnessed by me, a stranger, sticks with me far more than the guided tour to Monte Albán. (Which don't get me wrong was cool too, only so abstracted.)
This mural is by Oaxacan street artists/activists @lapiztola and is located in Los Angeles.
Or how when returning to a familiar place in a different season the place becomes brand new again.
I love to revisit botanical gardens in return travels because they greet me with new fauna faces and flora friends to meet every time I return.
Bergianska Trädgården is one of my favorite botanical gardens in the world.
I love to take photos in the garden and then paint and draw in my travel nature journal from said photos while sipping tea and having a little treat up on the balcony.
I look forward to meeting her in spring and fall one day!
When physical travel isn't in the cards
For any number of reasons, sometimes physical travel isn't possible. But that doesn't mean one can't travel journal! We journey through the seasons, so make a season travel nature journal!
This is a page from summer journal I made. Other pages included things like what was growing & flowering in my garden, insects I discovered, and even recipes made with summer produce.
Or how about collecting images and references and creating a travel wish journal for a dream place, that in all reality, will probably only be visited in our imaginations?
Do research about local culture and make embellished notes, print off photos of flora and fauna to collage and use as references to paint and draw.
Make lists of all the plants and animals you see & sketch maps & make lists of the natural hot spots just as if you might if you were physically in a different place.
What about seeking out a local grocery of the culture and sampling some wishful flavors and using the packaging and recipes in a collage?
Some of the best trips can be taken in our imaginations - & there are never any travel delays!
What about a travel through time nature journal? Fill it with plants you remember from eras and places of your life...
The boxwood from your grandmother's front yard, the holly leaves from your childhood backyard that always stuck into your feet, the crabapples from the school playground, the poison ivy from the river you always swam in after high school, the vinca flower from the vacation to St. Maarten, the Spanish moss from your college town, the fir trees from the forests in grad school, the hibiscus plant you grew at your first apartment with your partner... The possibilities are endless!
You could even get really wild and create a travel nature journal of a utopic land of your own imagining! Forget the climate zones and fill the land with all your favorite flora and fauna, foods and fun! Let snow fall on tropical plants and fish swim in the snow!
Wonder Wednesday 121: Travel Nature Journaling
Dare I admit that travel nature journaling is my all time favorite type of nature journaling?
Y'all know how much I tout the wonders (and love) of nature journaling in nearby nature, but there is just something so awe inspiring about seeing nature new to your eyes.
And I whole heartedly proclaim that once you get away and immerse in new nature and culture, upon returning to the beloved familiar it is easy to see the everyday nearby nature with refreshed eyes, mind, and heart.
& Packing Considerations
Paper- loose or in a notebook:
Consider whether you will be painting in your journal because that will help determine what type of journal and paper you will want to use. Personally I like fabric bound store bought watercolor sketchbooks for travel because they are durable, flexible to various mediums, and look nice in the long run.
Pens and/or pencils:
What is your favorite type of pen, marker, pencil, what colors? Consider bringing at least one waterproof pen. It could be super sad if you get caught in the rain or spill your tea while travel nature journaling and everything smears- or perhaps that is part of the charm and story of the place too!
Paints and brushes
Tape (washi, cello, double stick, masking...)
Camera (Polaroids are fun)
Various Local Collected Ephemera
String and/or ribbon
(This can be upcycled from packaging and tags collected along the way and used to restrain a bulging notebook or to tie things like seashells onto a spiral binding and can often be found locally)
There really isn't any prep to travel nature journaling beyond deciding what you can fit in your pack and what you're willing to carry in a day pack.
If traveling light with a carry-on bag only, if you want to bring scissors, double check that your scissors are allowed on the plane. Same goes with bringing liquid glue.
If bringing a Polaroid camera, pack an extra set of batteries.
Consider buying some of your materials locally once you arrive.
It is fun to seek out local art stores and also fun to use glue sticks (for example) with packaging in a language different than your own. Personally, I always bring my own:
- journal book,
- watercolor paints,
- a Pigma micron pen & an olive green LePen,
- and a pencil.
I usually also bring little travel scissors and a small washi tape. I buy glue sticks, and a few more pens, tapes, and whatever else little items strike my fancy along my adventures.
I upcycle a small local bottle (like from a ginger shot or something) to use for paint water on the go. (A water-brush could fulfill both brush and water bottle, but personally I'm prefer the classic brush.)
The only rule in making a travel nature journal is - literally anything goes!
Below I offer five ideas to get you started.
Want to make your own journal book? Check the Seeds to Sprout section for links!
In the moment it may seem silly to save a wrapper or receipt, but later when collaging a page and savoring an experience the text of a new land can symbolize an adventure and hold a lot meaning in memory.
The bags of different tasty treats can also work great to store travel nature journals bursting with found goodies! They are also super for creating journal covers and little pouches to glue inside on pages.
* Make sure to wash food bags out well because no one wants to attract unexpected visitors of the insect variety!*
Stamps are so fun to include in travel nature journals. They have a vintage flair and often feature local artwork and notable plants and animals from the place. Current stamps are great, as are vintage stamps found at local flea markets.
I've even heard of people going to the post office to buy stamps and get the postmaster to cancel their stamps in their journal - pretty cool!
Another idea for incorporating postage is to nature journal on post card size sturdy paper in every city or country you visit on a trip. Then mail it from that place to yourself back at home.
Once you return home these little travel gifts will keep arriving which can be collaged or collected into a travel nature journal.
I send handmade post cards to my grandmother from everywhere I go. She then uses them in her own artwork!
3. Patterns & Lists
The creative nature connection memories collected on a journey don't all have to be from primary viewing experience. Often the patterns we see around us reflect the way a culture sees their environment in color and pattern.
Explore recreating or even copying for fun the patterns found on fabrics, architecture, and other culturally significant items.
Make lists of the local plants and animals you see and discover patterns about the lives and habitats of local flora and fauna.
Now I'm not advocating for breaking any customs rules here, because accidental spreading of plant diseases and nonnative species is a major problem around the globe and can be devastating to farmers and wildlife.
I am saying though, if you come across something like a fresh sprig of lavender in your tea or rosemary on your dinner plate, perhaps clean it, press it, and attach it in the travel nature journal to remind you of that delicious meal or relaxing tea.
The sense of smell is extremely powerful for conjuring up memory. Let the fragrance of that pressed herb take you back to the moment every time you open the journal.
5. Language & Labels
When you are drawing or painting or waxing poetic about the flora and fauna local to the place you are exploring, try to discover the local common names for your subject as well as the scientific names and name in your own language.
This adds connected flair and also teaches you a little something about the culture because often to discover this requires asking someone - and that can lead to making a new friend!
So don't be shy! People like to share their nearby nature. They may even write the word in your journal for you, which is pretty cool too. Handwriting is such a personal thing. Even when you share the same alphabet, often cultures have different ways of writing letters and numbers which adds a personal friendly touch to a travel nature journal page.
Most of all, have fun with travel nature journaling! Don't put pressure on yourself to complete the journal while on your travels.
Does slowing down on a fun filled packed trip to tap into creative connection flow for a few moments offer grounding and a moment meditative peace?
Of course it does! But that isn't always the point of a trip or what the moment calls for.
Journal when you feel like it and save the rest for the fun of processing, assimilating, and savoring the experience through creative practice once you return.
Where was a favorite adventure of yours?
Did you make any sketches or collect any ephemera?
Share in the comments below!
If you've creatively compiled travel memories, share a photo on Instagram #wingswormsandwonder
Seeds to Sprout
Make a nature journal
This is my classic go-to journal that I use with all my students in a video tutorial. It's great for travel nature journals because you can easily add more pages in consecutive order while away or make it thin and use it for a local day trip!
Autumn is a month away, so what better time to get ready for a seasonal journal! Travel through the season's transition and document your nearby nature discoveries along the way!
Make this leaf shaped journal with a pdf download!
Easy sew travel pouch
Create this easy sew supply pouch for travel near and far!
Or procure locally made fabrics on your adventures and make pouches as gifts for friends and family!
How about local block printed fabrics from that village in Uganda or use upcycled plastic bags collected on a beach in Nicaragua!