Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Art of Field Journaling

Yes I know, I’ve been absent. I have been logging, not blogging. For the past six weeks I have gone nowhere (well, almost nowhere) without my journaling bag of tricks—binoculars, a loupe, a ruler, pens, colored pencils—and I’ve practiced the art of observation. I saw dodder twining counterclockwise around and around the winged stems of Verbesina alternifolia and slowly, over the weeks, sucking the life out of them. I saw a cicada climbing a broomstick, and a trio of ants carrying a dead earthworm down under. I spied on a green heron. One morning I watched as four species of bees gorged themselves on pollen on the face of a sunflower. A week later the bumblebee, or her hivemate, was still methodically combing through the approximately two thousand disc florets so that each and every one would reach seedhood. I defy anyone to closely observe a bumblebee at work and not come away with admiration and even affection for the industrious creature.
The summer just slipped away. A mourning dove laid two small white eggs on a pine needle nest. Midges deformed the stems of goldenrod so that they looked more like flowers than stems. The sunflower lost its pretty petals and developed a bulge in the middle. The bulge grew petals. Then the bulge grew bulges. The older I get the more appreciative I am of such character-building eccentricities that supplant the perfect beauty of youth.

I watched as a swallowtail larva attached itself to a stick, becoming almost invisible behind a leaf of parsley as it began to pupate. I know its secret. My sunflower’s sepals yellowed, and seeds formed on its face. Over three weeks time they were pecked out by finches and cardinals.  
Spicebush berries are now turning red, and already tiny flower buds are tightly tucked in the plants’ leaf axils, ready to cast a chartreuse blush throughout the forests of Pennsylvania next April. A cool wind blew in yesterday.

Even this veteran gardener was astounded at how much there was to gain from a two-hour solo walk on a Saturday morning with binoculars, a 10X loupe, a ruler, pens, and colored pencils. If you think you might be interested in field journaling, let me know. I’m planning a spring workshop.


  1. Hey Pam this might be a neat talk for the Open Gate Day???? Gayle

  2. Greetings, Pam,
    And congratulations on your write-up in PHS's Green Scene magazine! I had just been thinking about you, and wondering where we were in the process of reviving Morven, then, you appeared on page 38, smiling out from amid the hydrangeas! I have enjoyed perusing your blog. As you will understand, it takes all I can muster to keep up with my garden, even this late in the season. The Kale (Lacinato), Chard (Charlotte), and a mix of carrots keep coming, and the Japanese Anemones, (Andrea Atkins) are at their peak! Best wishes,

  3. Hi Pam , read about you in Green Scene and am inspired to get to know you,and listen to your insights. I am a fellow nature lover...I was the kid in class with her head staring out the window..I still dislike being indoors when there is daylight ,and still so much to see.

    My husband and I have a small farmette in south Jersey on the Delaware bay side,just 10 acres,one of which is a dedicated wildlife habitat. In my garden near the house I plant for butterflies and birds. This year was a banner year for butterflies. There were so many they crashed into us as came though the garden to go into the house. I put out rotting organic watremellon rinds. I have a photo of a watermellon bowl full of question marks and buckeyes. They like rotting peaches Pentax butterfly binoculars make this experience even more thrilling. I have to drag myself away to get any work done.

    Please let me know when you have a journaling class. My best friend lives in Bird in Hand so I have a place to stay. Regards , Helen

  4. Thanks for your comments, Everett and Helen. Two of my goals this winter (after my 'Loma' lettuce stops ... I will really miss it!) are to get out and take walks with my journal, and mentally populate my new garden. This week I scattered seedheads of some favorite bird, butterfly, and bee plants: sunflower, red salvia, Nicotiana sylvestris, larkspur, dill, and Eryngium 'Blaukappe'. I can see them already.

  5. Pam,
    Your writing is a joy to read, makes me wonder if you are working on a book (would you even have the time?). I would be interested in attending a field journaling workshop; let me know when you're offer one, and if it fits with my schedule I'll be there.
    With all best wishes,

  6. Please, if you are interested in a field journaling workshop, subscribe to, so I have your email address. Thanks!