Saturday, January 22, 2011

Nature studies...

One of my favorite things in life is nature.

"Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?"  ~Matthew 6:26

Nature Walks...I live on the northern prairies and I'm sure they call this "Big Sky Country" because out here, there is nothing to block the sky. Te flora of  the plains mostly consists of  grass. The few trees that grow here are either living by a stock dam or along a creek. But this affords me large expanses of area that I can walk without hindrance, and I just love to walk. I used to walk to keep my legs toned, but now I've found many greater reasons to walk. I have found that my walks bring me closer to God. It is my most treasured time.  I've found so many answers to problems, and to anxiety, and I've found so many reasons to praise Him for the blessings in my life. No wonder Jesus often went to the mountain alone to pray and would be away until late in the night. I sometimes feel I could walk forever. The cares of the world just seem to slip away as I walk along and ponder the good earth God has  set right before my very eyes! 

Henry David Thoreau wrote, "I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks--who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering." My walks that were once "walking marathons" are now times of contemplation, prayer, and just being.  I now understand what Thoreau said about sauntering. The sauntering I do comes when I see a "new" wildflower in bloom or a grass that is beginning to head or a butterfly, cricket, beetle or an eagle flying overhead. Sauntering happens when I nearly step on a lark's nest of eggs whose builder suddenly flew up in front of my foot, or when I find a bull snake coiled around a dozen greeny-gray duck eggs which he is about to make a dinner of. Sauntering happens when I take a rest beside a dam ringed with Cottonwood trees and just listen to the wind blow through the leaves, or when I take the time to watch the rain drops on the water. Sauntering is good for the soul.

I also used to take Nature Walks with my children. We did this as a kind of discovery project. "What can we find today?" I encouraged them to bring back something they had found...a feather, rock, flower, moss, insect or sometimes it was the memory of an antelope barking at us from a distance. After our Nature Walks, we recorded our findings in what we call Nature Journals.

Nature Journals...These were books that we recorded in weekly--usually. They contained the dates of our walks, our findings along the path, drawings, nature coloring pages, leaf or flower pressings, observations, common and Latin names of the specimens, and any other things we thought  worthy of an entry in our books. We also include poems, scriptures, verses, quotes, or hymns that described further our nature experiences.

The books we used were hard-covered books that had lined pages in them. This way we were  much neater about our writing in them. We usually drew our pictures on regular copy paper or sketch paper and then glued them into the proper place. We  often recorded two years worth of information into each book, depending on how in depth we got and how many entries we had. I know that there are now blank books available which have pages that are half lined and half plain for sketches and written entries.  Later in our years of journaling, we used copy paper and put our sheets into clear page protectors and then into 3-ring binders.

These Nature Journals turned out to be our most treasured books. Each child, and I, love looking through the past years and seeing the changes in nature and in ourselves. As the years go by, the children's pages become more detailed, more artistic, and reflect who they have become. The book The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden, was a great inspiration for me. This book is now out of print, but I found a copy in our public library. If you are fortunate enough to find a copy, hang on to it.  Edith Holden recorded her nature findings month by month  in this book which included her watercolor paintings of flowers and birds as well as her thoughts and poetry.

Books...When one is "nature journaling," he ought to have some good field guides to help in identifying the specimens at hand. We prefered Audubon Society's Field Guides because they include pictures of the actual specimens rather than drawings. Their Pocket Guides are smaller and include more general information, but are very handy for younger students. Another book we really used until the binding was coming off  is called North American Wildlife by Reader's Digest. If you could only afford one field guide, this is the one. It includes general listings of every kingdom...insects, mammals, flowers, trees, mollusks and more.  Our kids sometimes carried it to the tree fort.

Handbook of Nature Study is also a favorite of mine. It was written by Anna Botsford Comstock in 1911 and has been re-printed. There are over 800 pages of in-depth nature studies on every topic you could imagine. One spring, we have had the opportunity to see a pair of robins nest in the wreath at our front door. We watched everything from nest building to laying of eggs to hatching and feeding. Right away we grabbed the Handbook of Nature Study to find out all about the robins and their habits---how many eggs could we expect, how much time would it take to hatch them, how many worms would the fledglings eat. This book also includes questions that one could use to help children observe nature. To me, this is a "must have" for nature study.
One winter I purchased a book called Discover Nature In Winter by Elizabeth P. Lawlor. Because I continue walking and studying nature throughout the year, I thought this would prove to be a neat book to have. And it has. The book taught us to first understand the reason for the season of Winter--the tilt of the earth from the sun, shorter days and such. Then you learn about snow, winter constellations, trees without their leaves, identifying weeds and wild plants, winter insects, winter birds, identifying empty nests and about mammals who sleep through the winter and how some change during winter. It was a fun book for Northerners like us!

For very young children, I enjoyed listening to the children read the series of books called Christian Liberty's Nature Readers. There are five easy to read books with stories like -- An Ant's Story-- Mr. Crab and His House-- A Cocoon-- What Mrs. Wasp Can Do. Although these are called "readers" they are very nicely written and I considered them good children's "literature."

A Book List... of favorites that I have read or my children have read which have nature themes.
To read aloud to the younger ones---
James Herriot's Treasury for Children
The Very Hungry Caterpillar (and others) - by Eric Carle
Charlotte's Web --Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White
The Great Race -- Love Flute -- Beyond the Ridge (and others) by Paul Goble
Tales of Peter Rabbit and His Friends by Beatrix Potter
Wait Till The Moon is Full by Margaret Wise Brown
Christian Liberty Nature Readers - edited by Michael J. McHugh & Dr. Paul D. Lindstrom
Pagoo -- Seabird -- by Holling Clancy Holling
Find the Constellations - by H.A. Rey
I See Animals Hiding - by Jim Arnosky (and others by him)
Parables from Nature
For mature readers and adults---
Rascal --The Wolfing -- by Sterling North
Walden --- Walking -- by Henry David Thoreau
Nature -- by Ralph Waldo Emerson
My Friend Flicka --Thunderhead --The Green Grass of Wyoming -- all by O'Hara
A Girl of Limberlost--Freckles --Laddie --The Harvester -- all by Gene Stratton-Porter
My Side of the Mountain - Julie of the Wolves - by Jean Craighead George
Misty of Chincoteague - Stormy,  Misty's  Foal - (and others) by Marguerite Henry
Tom Brown's Field Guide to Nature Observation and Tracking - by Tom Brown

One of my personal goals is to continue to record enough nature in my journals to finally have every bird, plant, grass, and tree which lives on our western plains ranch. I'd like to include insects too, but I doubt I can find them all. Another personal goal is to give my children the ability to really "see" nature, to love God's creation, and to see His purpose in it. I want them to be able to recognize the flora and fauna of our every-day surroundings and be able to tell you something interesting about them. You can only imagine how delighted this mother was when her children came in from horseback riding and brought in a wildflower, weed, rock or insect that they had found along the way. "Let's look it up and see what it is," were sweet singing to my ears!
More on nature journals to come!
"The Amen! of Nature is always a flower."
Oliver Wendell Holmes

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