The Ridges Sanctuary

Preservation, Education, and Research

Nature Notes: Documenting the Natural World 

Posted on Mar 27, 2024 by Jackie Rath   1 Comment | Posted in Blog · Nature Notes

By Jackie Rath, Program Coordinator

On most weekdays around noon, Ridges staff make their way to the center table in the back offices to eat lunch. While this routine might feel repetitive, the conversations from these gatherings are anything but. Around this table, I have learned so much from my coworkers through their fascinations and questions about the natural world. I think about how special it is to share knowledge with others, but even more so to share what we don’t know or want to learn more about. Many topics I grew up intimidated by or thought too silly to have questions about are open books for discussion at The Ridges. I learn something new almost every day just by others conveying what they have observed.  

It is what I do after I learn these captivating bits of knowledge that is key. Through exploration of topics in written and visual mediums, I go outdoors and observe for myself. Many of my own fascinations within nature are a woven patchwork of passions shared by others over the years. Nature journaling has helped me to keep a record of my learning experiences and interpret them in my own way. It slows down that feeling of not knowing enough while allowing curiosity and thoughtfulness out in nature. It allows me to pay attention to the details, colors, and texture while also noting the odd, unusual, and unique. I can ask my silly questions and explore them further. Because they really aren’t silly, and they can be just for me.  

Nature Journal prompt of a summer outing in the Sanctuary. 

Nature journaling can be daunting. For me, it ebbs and flows. When I don’t know where to start, I try the following to see where it takes me or where it doesn’t—it is a record of my learning experiences, and that includes my off days:  

  1. Just get outside. Make mental notes for future entries or note places you want to return to. You don’t have to go far to see nature, it is everywhere. Your own backyard can be the center of your interest. 
  2. “I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of” 
  3. Date, temperature, sky coverage (record data over time)  
  4. Patterns and texture 
  5. One-minute quick sketches. Don’t worry about the result 
  6. Take photos and note things to look up later 
  7. Return to the same spot multiple times to observe and notice differences.  
  8. Color palette, shadows, highlights  
  9. Look at examples and styles that other illustrators and sketchbook artists’ use. Pull inspiration.

My recent pulls of inspiration have come from field guides that I refer back to such as The Sibley Guide to Birds by David Sibley and A Guide to Mushrooms & Toadstools by Morten Lange.  

The joy and fulfillment that come from the practice lies in the process itself and the unique experiences and discoveries you make along the way. It is what you make it, and it is just for you!  

As we approach the 22nd Annual Festival of Nature, I can’t help but think of it as a large-scale version of our Ridges lunch gatherings. It is people sharing passions. It is making complex communication of science more approachable and fun. It is a community. It is a cycle of sharing, excitement, and coming back with more and more questions. It provides a way to share ideas in an engaging and educational way and encourages continuous learning about the natural world.  

We are excited to share the wide array of ways to experience the natural beauty of the peninsula. This year, let us celebrate the individuals, organizations, and ecosystems that make Door County the incredible community it is by connecting people and the planet. Through field trips, lectures, events, and communications, we want you to be inspired to act and help us ensure that these wild places are protected for future generations.  

 Below you will see a few highlighted festival programs to engage in nature through different artistic and digital mediums. All festival participants will receive their own notebook to use as a nature journal and jot down notes on their experiences. With 77 field trips scheduled throughout Memorial Day Weekend, there is something for everyone:  

 27 / Nature at the Tip of Your Pencil, Part 1: Making a Nature Journal – NEW! 

Friday, May 24, 1:30 pm – 4:00 pm | Saturday, May 25, 1:30 pm – 4:00 pm 

Join scientific illustrator Kathleen Garness for a two-part dive into the world of nature drawing. In the Friday morning workshop, you will learn how to construct your own nature journal. Basic supplies and archival materials and tools needed will be provided, with the handouts and journal itself that are yours to take home. On Saturday (See #59), we will explore the Sanctuary trails and observe, learn, share, and illustrate. No experience is necessary – we want you to see plants with a fresh point of view! You are also welcome to bring your supplies. Participants are encouraged to participate in both workshops; however, you are welcome to participate in individual sessions. Suitable for ages 14 and up. 

23 / Using Seek App to Engage in Nature – NEW! 

Friday, May 24, 1:30 PM – 3:30 pm 

Have you ever found a mushroom, flower, or bug, and not been sure what it is? The Seek app is for you! This smartphone app uses the power of image recognition technology to identify the plants and animals all around you. Drawing from millions of wildlife observations on iNaturalist, Seek shows you lists of commonly recorded insects, birds, plants, amphibians, and more in your area. Join us to learn how to use this app and what it has to offer while exploring the DCLT Oak Road Nature Preserve. We will be slowly walking on an easy, level-to-rolling terrain for approximately one mile of trail. Make sure to wear sturdy walking shoes. Families are encouraged and welcome! Registrants will receive more information about how to download the app ahead of time. Suitable for all ages. 

74 / Phenology in a Handmade Book – NEW! 

Sunday, May 26, 9:00 am – 12:00 pm 

Phenology is the study of a natural phenomenon in relation to its surroundings and as it evolves over time. You will find that even an informal phenology project encourages a deep awareness and connection with your subject. Join us at the Cabins to create your own book, embellish it as much as you like, and put it to use recording data associated with your chosen natural subject. That data may include words, diagrams, photos, drawings, prints, rubbings, and so on, artfully entered into your book. Suitable for ages 18 and up.    

Festival of Nature Art Exhibit & Artist Reception 

Drawing on Science 

A deep dive into the world of scientific illustration and the important role it plays in science. This exhibition features the works of three talented artists, Daniel Meinhardt, Jackie Rath, and Maggie Warren. 

The exhibit will be on display from Thursday, May 23rd, 2024 – August 23rd, 2024. Artist Reception, Thursday, May 23rd, 4:00 PM-6:00 PM. Special artist presentations will begin at 5:00 PM.  

For more Festival of Nature information, including field trip information, registration, resources, and sponsors, visit our Festival of Nature website:

1 Response to "Nature Notes: Documenting the Natural World "

Comment by Marji Andrae
March 30, 2024 4:31 pm

Thanks Jackie for the encouragement to give journalling a try

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