The Naturalist’s Notebook – Book Review
Whether it is the beginning of a new year or a new day, the decision to begin a garden or nature journal will launch you on a journey of practiced observation. In their beautiful hardcover book, The Naturalist's Notebook: An Observation Guide and 5-Year Calendar-Journal for Tracking Changes in The Natural World Around You (2017), Nathaniel Wheelwright and Bernd Heinrich have written and illustrated a means to record a five-year visual comparison of the occurrences you will find if “you develop seeing as a skill of practiced devotion.” The first 100 pages are divided into the six chapters described below. The final 100 pages are a five-year calendar-journal for the recording of observations, remembering, tracking and trending.
While both Nathaniel Thoreau Wheelwright and Bernd Heinrich hail from the world of academia and hold titles of “professor,” their work, The Naturalist’s Notebook, is written to aid the backyard gardener, birder, and naturalist to record the life events and timing of those occurrences. Both authors write about their childhood experiences of recording birds incubating their eggs, plants blooming in sync with migratory birds, and the overall phenomenon of life that is often overlooked because we do not have “practiced seeing.”
Being Attentive – Chapter One
Both authors build on the citizen scientist observations from their youth in the culmination of this volume almost 50 years later. Historical works of previous centuries, i.e. The Natural History of Selborne (1788), and Handbook of Nature Study (1911), are held in comparison to the digital age of recording observations. Both formats have value and rewards, but the authors prefer “the old fashioned way” of writing down observations and remembering those occurrences over time. The method of recording brief observations and the means to become an experienced observer are covered in this section.
How to Become an Observant Naturalist – Chapters Two and Three
These chapters are devoted to the practical means to become a trained observer of nature. Eight key elements are described as the foundation for developing this skill. They are: cultivate curiosity, learn the names of plants and animals around you, become familiar with basic ecology, go on nature walks and take notes, ask “why”, use the senses of touch, smell, and hearing along with seeing, conduct simple experiments, and teach others. Bernd describes how he utilizes these eight skills and how he used art and drawing to connect with nature and record his personal observations.
The Naturalist’s Tool Box – Chapter Four
This chapter is devoted to the tools utilized to aid in observation – clothing, cameras, binoculars, thermometers, pencil, and journal. This exercise is aimed at focused observation and recording the event in brief, two or three-word phrases for comparison over time, such as “last frost” or “first hummingbird”. If you are a more detailed citizen scientist, you can utilize the recommended formats for timelines, tables, and graphs.
Simple Experiments as A Way of Learning – Chapter Five
This chapter is written in a very conversational style with the author describing the four seasons and those simple experiments he conducted, such as observing bird behavior in winter; planting seeds and earthworm diets in spring; spider diets and bumblebee flower preferences in summer and fall.
Knowing Nature Where You Are – Chapter Six
A naturalist can practice their observations in the urban, as well as the rural setting. Which trees are blooming, when did the Christmas cactus or orchid bloom or the dandelions push through the cracks in the pavement? Heat waves and snowstorms, rains and floods, migratory bird sightings and fruits maturing on bushes and trees. Slowing down and observing all the forms of life surrounding your home, and recording those events, creates a sense of unity and understanding. Bernd expressed this well, “without the attainment of familiarity, the significant remains invisible.”
Five Year Calendar Journal
A simple lined calendar of 365 days over the span of five years and four seasons, is arranged for ease of recording, referencing and remembering. This book provides an excellent format for recording “curiosity and wonder.”
The Naturalist’s Notebook is an excellent resource for recording observations for the gardener, the birder, the student, or the senior. Whether you are an experienced journal-keeper or just looking for a better way to record your notes, this book offers the prose, the illustrations, the instructions, and the journal – all in one volume. The authors’ prose is based on personal experience and the academics of natural science and biology. The authors are donating 100% of their royalties to conservation and environmental organizations.
Available on Amazon
This hardcover, 208-page volume is published by Storey and is available for purchase at bookstores and through Amazon. The purchase price is $19.95.
Last update on 2020-05-26 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
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