Nature Journaling After a Fire

Let’s practice nature journaling after a fire in Northern California. We will explore the regrowth in Annadel State Park after the 2020 Glass Fire.

So you might be asking: “How can nature journaling be applied to wildfire?” Actually, the powerful thing about nature jouranling is that it is a perspective or a tool more than a subject matter. This perspective can be applied to lots of things. In effect it improves our ability to observe. As it turns out a nature journal can be a great tool to help us:

  • learn about fire ecology
  • prepare for wildfires
  • help change the narrative around fire
  • and even to heal from traumatic experiences with fire

In addition to the above benefits nature journaling can help fire professionals as well as contributing to citizen science about fire. Equally important, nature journaling can help Californians and others create resilient fire adapted communities. To learn more about this increasingly important topic check out this article by Miriam Morrill at the Fire Adapted Network.

I have been able to nature journal live fire in several prescribed burn situations. This has been possible thanks primarily to Miriam Morrill and her program Pyrosketchology. These experiences have led me to use my nature journal to investigate more through a fire ecology lens. I have also been invited to teach nature journaling at Cal TREX prescribed burn training exchange programs for the Plumas County Fire Safe Council in 2021.

nature journaling after a fire in Annadel State Park
Christopher Chung / The Press Democrat
The 2020 Glass Fire

The Glass Fire was one of the fires that hit Northern California in the 2020 fire season. First starting in Napa County near Glass Mountain Road it quickly spread into Sonoma County. The fire grew to 11,000 acres in one night. Significantly for me, several areas that I nature journal burned in the fire. Partly for this reason I decided to nature journal there in the following spring. Learn more details about the Glass Fire here.

Nature Journaling After a Fire: Safety Concerns

When nature journaling in an area that has recently seen fire there are a few things to keep in mind. Local agencies will generally close areas until they are deemed safe after a fire. However, you should always be responsible of your own safety regardless of what the signs say. Here are a few tips. Luckily, nature journaling makes you more aware of your surroundings 😉

  1. First of all, you should beware of holes in the ground. Tree roots are sometimes consumed by fire leaving openings underground.
  2. The most hazardous thing after a fire is dead trees and their branches. Weak branches can fall at a later time. Pay attention to what is above you especially if it is windy.
  3. You should prepare yourself for changed trail conditions.
  4. Lastly, you should pay attention to the weather. Flash floods and debris flows are possible in areas that have lost vegetation then experience intense rain.

These safety concerns should not prevent you from nature journaling after a fire. Nevertheless it is good to be informed. Not everything you should look out for is a hazard. Next, I will show you some things you

nature Journaling after a fire: what to look for

  1. Fire-Following Flowers. First, lets look at flowers. Some flowers will only come up after a fire. I enjoy looking for these species and recording them in my nature journal. This is a classic thing to do in a post-fire area. Do you want to see a whole video about this?
  2. Succession Ecology. Second, let’s look at succession. Disturbance and regeneration are important parts of nature. Succession is the study of these regenerative patterns.
  3. Fire-Tracking. Third let’s hire a detective. Sherlock Holmes would be a great companion on your post-fire nature journaling trip. You can also look for clues, use deductive reasoning, and make hypotheses about how a fire moved through the area. I share some of these techniques in the video.
  4. Mapping Burn Intensity. You can learn about fire in a more nuanced way by looking at the variation in burn intensity. Fire never burns an area homogeneously despite how it is conceived in popular imagination.
  5. Fire Phenology. Phenology is the study of seasonal patterns in nature. You can add a phenology wheel to your nature journal.

nature journaling after a fire landscape showing a hill that burned in the 2020 glass fire

Nature Journaling Post-Fire Ecosystem Change

I have talked about nature journaling ecosystem change in other videos. For example, I interviewed Robin Carlson several months ago about her nature journaling practice. Robin has nature journaled in the same area for several years. The Stebbins Cold Creek Preserve burned in the 2015 Wragg fire. Robin has documented ecosystem change in the area since the fire. As a result she has learned a lot in addition to contributing to citizen science. You can learn more about her Wildfire to Wildflower project here.

 

Are you new to nature journaling? If so, then this post has the basics : How to Nature Journal in 10 Steps

Do you need help choosing nature journaling supplies? In that case check out Nature Journaling Supplies: What You Need and What You Do Not

 

 

Nature Journal Adventure: Kayak Nature Journaling

Join me on a nature journal adventure with my friend and fellow nature journaler JP! It was Superbowl Sunday but we decided to nature journal instead. We saw a dead whale, we saw mergansers, and we even saw a crawdad and cliff-growing succulents.

Just Start Somewhere

Nature journaling in a new element is not easy. I made a whole video about how to nature journal from a kayak and I am still not totally comfortable. You will see how I struggle even getting started when you watch the video. I paddle around looking for a better angle. What should I draw? Where should I park my kayak? Should I nature journal from the shore?

“Start before you’re ready.”

-Steven Pressfield

The most important thing is to just get your journal out and start getting something down on the page. Getting started can be especially hard under the following nature journal adventure circumstances:

  • You are not physically comfortable
  • The environment is distracting
  • There are too many options to nature journal
  • You are worried about your materials getting lost or damaged
  • The art supplies you usually use are not conducive to the adventure

The best solution to all these problems is to clarify your intentions before you go, simplify your materials, and start making marks on your page as soon as possible.

nature journal adventure on kayak

I was really glad for the opportunity to go on this adventurous nature journaling trip with JP. To see more of JP’s work check out her Instagram. She also shares some of her professional calligraphy work on there. https://www.instagram.com/jpthistlecreek/  In addition JP is the leader of the Napa Valley Nature Journal Club.

Just getting started with nature journaling?

Need more tips? check out this post. It will walk you through how to nature journal in 10 steps.

Do you need help building your nature journaling kit and choosing supplies? Check out Nature Journaling Supplies: What You Need and What You Do Not

How to Nature Journal on a Kayak

Learning how to nature journal on a kayak can take your enjoyment of nature to the next level. You are guaranteed to see new things because a kayak is an easy way to access hidden areas. Even a small lake in a crowded park will have niches that you can reach while everyone else is walking on the trails. You can have a more immersive nature experience all to yourself.

However, there are also some challenges about nature journaling from a kayak. These challenges prevent many people from even trying. I made this video to help you overcome those challenges.

Ten Tips for How to Nature Journal on a Kayak

  1. First of all choose a good location. You want a location that is close, convenient, calm, and comfortable. This will make it easier to nature journal.
  2. Practice kayaking and nature journaling separately first. It is exponentially harder to learn two new skills at the same time than to learn one. The more you can practice these skills separately the better you will do when you combine them.
  3. Keep your supplies simple. Don’t bring expensive stuff that you will get precious about. You don’t want to be fumbling with lots of stuff.
  4. Be safe. Follow all safety recommendations for the body of water where you kayak.
  5. Go with a friend. This is safer but also much more motivating.
  6. Plan for the sun. Be sure to wear a hat and sun protection.
  7. Deal with drift. It is hard to stay still while you are nature journaling from a kayak. Some options: use an anchor, do quick sketches only, wedge yourself in plants or mud, use a tandem kayak, or plan for the drift and set yourself up accordingly.
  8. Take care of your basic needs. Warmth, food, hydration, comfort are essential. If you don’t take care of these don’t expect great nature journaling.
  9. Use the kayak for access. In addition to nature journaling in the kayak you can use the kayak to access islands and other areas you normally couldn’t. Then just hop out and do some land-lubber nature journaling.
  10. Lastly, find the right balance between accessibility and protection of your supplies. Inside a ziplock at the bottom of a cinched-down dry bag strapped into the back of your kayak you might be a safe place for your journal but you will never take it out. It will stay dry and safe but it will also be unused. If you leave your journal in your lap while you paddle it might get wet.
Want to learn about watercolor and watch another nature journal adventure? Check out this post.
If you want to learn more about kayaking check out this article at REI.
Just getting started with nature journaling?

Need more tips? If so, check out this post. It will walk you through how to nature journal in 10 steps.

Need help choosing nature journaling supplies? Check out Nature Journaling Supplies: What You Need and What You Do Not

Nature Journaling in the Grand Canyon! Post-Trip Share (Part 1)

I’m back from nature journaling in the Grand Canyon for 21 days. In my live “Show and Tell” video I share experiences and pages from the adventure!

You already know I have been testing nature journal supplies, clothing, sun protection, waterproof supplies, and other gear in preparation for this trip. You have heard about my training and my preparation. Now I’m back! And I have lots to share. In fact, it was so much I have to do a Part Two. My goal is to give you some answers to the following questions.

  • First, how did I prepare?
  • Next, how did I stay focused during the trip?
  • Lastly, what am I gonna do now that the trip is over?

Preparing to Nature Journal in the Grand Canyon

It can be hard to prepare for something that you have never done before. Had I ever been to the Grand Canyon before? Nope. Whitewater rafting with some of the biggest navigable rapids on the continent? Nope. Any whitewater rafting experience at all? No, but I went down a creek in an inner tube once. Any other river expedition experience? Nope. Had I ever spent 23 days camping with my girlfriend before? No…What about other multi-day expedition experience? Sort of… What about nature journaling in extreme conditions and unusual places? Yep, I got that one covered!

Nature Journaling the Grand Canyon
Photo by Brock Dolman

 

So first, I had to make sure I had the material needs covered to survive and thrive enough to enjoy the trip and have enough energy to nature journal. I didn’t want to break the bank on gear or spend forever trying to figure out what was best. Luckily, our trip leader, Cooper, and his partner Leah had a lot of the necessary gear that we could borrow. In addition, I managed to piece together a lot of the clothing necessary from my old wool hunting clothes and bought some used Patagonia layers. I love that they have a website dedicated to selling used gear that is still very useful and often like new.

Then, I focused my remaining funds on buying some key new pieces of equipment…
  1. A waterproof bag just for my nature journal kit. Watershed Largo Tote Bag(full review coming soon). Keeping my nature journal supplies easily accessible yet safe was a priority!
  2. Waterproof Notebook from Rite in the Rain. I also got two waterproof pens which ended up sucking…(review coming soon)
  3. Sun Protection was a priority for me! A wind resistant, non-floppy sun hat. Sun gloves so that I didn’t have to worry about sunscreen on my hands messing up my paper. I also got two sun shirts for sun protection on hot days.
  4. I also tried out an unusual style of sunglasses with no arms! Instead
    Photo by Brock Dolman

    of arms they have a cord attachment that makes them less likely to break and they don’t fall off even in the big rapids or while swimming, or under a 60 foot waterfall. Yes I tested them in all those settings. More review of these coming in the future.

  5. Last but definitely not least, I got an amazing camping chair. This chair was recommended by our trip leader for river trips. Luckily, I got it several months before the trip and it is one of my most useful nature journaling tools now! With this chair I was even able to sit in waterfalls and paint them.
    nature journaling in the grand canyon
    Sitting in a creek below a waterfall in my joeychair Photo by Brock Dolman
    Other Preparations for the Canyon

I knew from previous experiences that it would take me a while to get used to nature journaling in the Grand Canyon. Therefore, I tried to simulate aspects of the expedition in advance. I tested all the gear mentioned above. I tried to simulate conditions that I expected on the trip: wet, hot and sunny, cold and windy, etc. In addition to this type of training I also did research about the grand canyon and practiced layouts and techniques that I would use on my pages.

Balance and Commitment While Nature Journaling in the Canyon

Nature journaling is not always easy. Drawing moving subjects is not child’s play. Despite what people think, watercolor painting en plein air is not relaxing (especially when you only have 15 minutes, you are balanced on the edge of a sheer cliff full of cacti, the light is changing by the minute, spray from a waterfall is buffeting you, and a lifetime’s worth of potential paintings beckon to you from every direction you look in).  Choosing to nature journal while in a group of people doing other things requires balance, self-awareness, and social intelligence. Just choosing to sit with one vista or one plant when there are thousands of sights and experiences vying for your attention is a mentally taxing endeavor.

  1. Nature Journaling in the Grand Canyon
    Counting spines…Photo By Brock Dolman
Nature Journaling = Commitment

In these moments in the canyon it is easy for my mind to play tricks on me. It is easy to talk myself out of the work that I came to do. “It’s cold outside. Warm sleeping bag or sunrise landscape drawing? How can I nature journal before coffee? I should just take pictures of everything instead of trying to draw. I can draw from photos when I get back home. Maybe there is a better view around the corner. I probably need more time to capture this scene…no point in starting now. My nature journal supplies are too hard to get to. I’m too tired to try to draw this scorpion right now, besides look at all those legs! That is going to be too hard. I might mess up the look of the page if I try to sketch that scorpion. What if other people look at my drawing and its not that good?”

At such times it is good to shake all doubts from the head and invoke Steven Pressfield:

The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.

Seeking Balance

While busting one’s ass nature journaling is commendable being a human requires balance. Despite my own fantasies, this trip was not focused specifically on nature journaling in the grand Canyon. This was not like my Nature Journal Safaris in East Africa with John Muir Laws. Even though I planned on “working” on the trip and making a publication of my pages for my Patreon , the trip was actually supposed to be a vacation (why do I still struggle with that word?).

This trip also meant different things to different people. And despite my personal commitment there were plenty of other considerations on this trip. I was part of a team on a potentially dangerous expedition in an extremely remote area-I had a responsibility to the group and cooking and other duties just like everyone else. I was also part of a relationship – I was on this trip with my partner and had to tend to the needs of our relationship and spend quality time together.

grand canyon nature journal share
Sharing Nature Journal Pages with My Grand Canyon Friends photo by Brock Dolman
Me and Kate 🙂 Photo By Kate Freeman

Now What?

After spending 21 days without even seeing a building or a computer it has been a little hard adjusting to being back. However, I’m motivated to share my experiences with the community and I’m compiling and improving on my nature journal pages from the voyage to create a publication for you! This publication will be similar to my Tanzania Travel journal and will be available for print on demand via my author page on Blurb. It will probably cost around $30 for the hard copy and maybe $2 for the e-book. In addition my Patreon patrons of $5 and above will all get a copy mailed to them.

nature journaling in the grand canyon

nature journaling in the grand canyon