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

 

 

Intertidal Zone Nature Journaling

What do you like to do during the low tide?  If you’re like Marley Peifer, you might enjoy going to the rocky shore, doing some nature journaling of the intertidal zone, and maybe even harvesting dinner!  Join Marley as he explores the intertidal zone.

Tidepools are a dynamic place to visit, changing rapidly with the ocean and weather.  Marley is quick to note the high “information density”: 

“The main intellectual challenge in nature journaling at the tidepools is: there is so much information density, so many things to look at, so many potential subjects to choose from, that your main challenge is going to be focusing!”

Marley nature journaling intertidal zone
Marley surrounded by mussels nature journaling the low tide
Safety is #1.

Focusing on any one topic at the intertidal zone is one challenge; the other (arguably more important) one concerns logistics.  It is vital to remain aware of your surroundings at all times when you’re this close to the ocean.  The rocks are slippery and easy to fall on; the uneven terrain can catch your foot and get you stuck; and the ocean itself can catch you with its powerful waves.  “Never turn your back on the ocean,” Marley is explaining – right as the ocean splashes him on the butt.  He notes that it is better to come with a friend when exploring the rocky shore or intertidal zone.

Intertidal zone nature journaling page
Zoom-in drawing of a mussel. Watch your step!
So where do you start?

Despite the information density, Marley has a plan!  He follows a setup that helps him get information down quickly without getting overwhelmed:

  1. First, he situates himself so that he can observe safely and as comfortably as possible, and he secures his nature journal with binder clips so the pages won’t fly around while he’s journaling.
  2. Second, he takes down the metadata: when and where he is, and what the weather is like.
  3. Third, he makes a landscape rendering of the place, which really helps to set the scene.
  4. Fourth, he zooms in on a subject.  In this case, it’s one that isn’t moving, which allows for a longer time to observe the subject directly.
  5. Fifth, he keeps his awareness of his surroundings and of any exciting fast-moving natural developments he might want to observe.
Intertidal zone nature journal page
Metadata and landscape of the intertidal zone

Later, he uses his close focus binoculars to try to observe a turnstone – mostly because the bird is far away and he wants to observe it before it flies off, but also because it is safer to observe from a distance, out of the ocean’s reach.  Unfortunately the bird flies away very quickly, but Marley uses the information he has to make a memory drawing.  By recording as many details as he can recall, Marley is cementing those details in his mind.  He is also making it easier for himself to try to research the bird when he gets home.

bird memory drawing in the intertidal zone
A drawing of a turnstone bird from Marley’s memory
How to nature journal a landscapito of the intertidal zone:

Marley has some tips for capturing a landscapito of this special location.  For more landscapito tips, check out Marley’s earlier post here.

  • Punch in your dark values first, being mindful to reserve your whites.  To capture the dark shapes in his landscapito, Marley uses a Pilot Futayaku Brush pen
  • Put more details in the foreground; this is where the eye is drawn.
  • Put in only the suggestion of water at first.
  • When you begin using the watercolors, put in your lightest values first.  In this case, that would be both the sky and the ocean, which Marley puts in at the same time.  He uses John Muir Laws’s watercolor palette, which you can find here, and a Pentel large waterbrush.
  • Add the darker values in the foreground.
  • Now give this first layer of watercolor time to dry; the humidity near the ocean will make your page dry slower than you might be used to.
  • Adjust any values and saturations after the first layer has dried.
  • If needed, add back in your whites.
Marley’s intertidal zone landscapito

When it comes to adding white back into the landscapito, don’t be hard on yourself. Reserving whites is challenging and takes practice!  You can add the whites back in using an opaque media, like the Presto Jumbo Correction Pen Marley uses. Always test the opaque media off to the side first before using it on your main piece, and be sure to stop before you actually feel ready.  Otherwise playing with the correction pen might get too fun, and you might overdo it.

Marley’s practice and pencil miles pay off: he is able to get pages of rich information about his intertidal adventure AND harvest dinner!  ¡Buen provecho!

If you are just getting started with nature journaling check out this post : 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 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

Nature Journaling at the Beach

Let’s go nature journaling at the beach! It’s Labor Day weekend in the U.S. and thousands of families are going to the coast. Why not bring your nature journals and make it a learning adventure?

Whether you have a family or not taking your nature journal to the beach is a great activity. In this video I give you tips and techniques that will help you make the most of it. You should definitely watch the video. However, I am going to outline some of the tips for you right here.

Tips for Nature Journaling at the Beach

  1. First, set an intention before you go. What is your main goal? Is nature journaling your main purpose or are you adding nature journaling to a fun day with the family? Being clear about this will help you avoid frustration or disappointment later on.
  2. Next, don’t bring too much stuff! What is actually essential for your intention? If you know your priorities then this step is easier. A good chair is worth it, especially if you are prioritizing birding or painting landscapes.
  3. Third, protect yourself from the sun. One in every five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime according to Skin Cancer Foundation Statistics! The rate is even higher in Australia and New Zealand. Sun exposure will also strain your eyes and tire you out. You might be telling yourself you suck at drawing seagulls or you have no energy to nature journal but you might just be exhausted from the sun.
  4. Next, look for interesting subjects in the tide pools or where people are fishing. These are especially good tactics if you nature journal better with exciting and dynamic subjects. Otherwise, you might just want to chill in your chair and paint a landscape.
  5. Don’t forget that the water is not the only thing to look at. What is happening in the sand? What kind of plant communities are in the transition areas?

nature journaling at the beach tidepools nature journaling at the beach sunset nature journaling at the beach

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

North Bay Nature Journaling Paradise!

People who live in the North Bay are in luck! Because the San Francisco Bay Area is the epicenter of the Nature Journaling movement! If you live in Sonoma, Napa, Solano, or Marin you also know we have tons of beautiful parks and natural areas to explore. As a result, I consider the North Bay a Nature Journaling paradise!

Nature Journaling classes and clubs in our area:

  • As you probably know, I lead the Monthly Nature Journaling fieldtrips with the North Bay Nature Journal Club, usually in Sonoma and Marin. See the calendar here.
  • There is also the newly formed Napa Valley Nature Journal Club. Check out their Facebook page here. If you live and nature journal in the Napa Valley you can help this club grow.
  • Short Monthly Classes with John Muir Laws where he goes over specific techniques. See his calendar here. And he also leads a field trip near the end of every month sometimes in the north bay but also in the East and South Bay.

Here are my top three North Bay nature journaling spots for 2020!

  1. Abbot’s Lagoon in the Point Reyes National Seashore. This incredible location has it all: sand dunes, biodiversity, seabirds, otters, and beautiful vistas. It is a little bit of a drive if you are coming from Santa Rosa or Vallejo or Napa but it is definitely worth it for a half day or more nature journaling adventure.
  2. Sonoma Baylands Trail on San Pablo Bay. This central location is gonna be a relatively short drive from most towns. It is a wonderful place to marvel at the marshlands that used to surround the entire Bay Area. There are many seabirds and weird plants here too. Even though it is a short drive from the city you will feel peaceful here.
  3. Helen Putnam Regional Park. I have led the North Bay Nature Journal Club to this location several times. It is easy to get to but has beautiful oak savanna landscapes and wonderful old trees. It can get very hot so plan accordingly.
painting at helen putnam park one of my favorite north bay nature journaling locations
nature journaling at helen putnam photo by @amycycles

10 Landscape Painting Tips on a Hot Day!

Did you see my last video and want to learn more? In this one I share the technical side…Let me know where you are at in your learning journey. What do you need help with?

 

Nature Journaling Class at Pepperwood Preserve

I’m excited to be doing my first collaboration with the Pepperwood Preserve this year! On August 24th I will be teaching “Seeing More Through Nature Journaling” at their incredible 3,200 acre property. I went to a reptile walk there a couple months ago so I could nature journal and scope the place out. The vistas were impressive and fun to draw and I got in quick sketches of a blue-tailed skink, a pileated woodpecker, and a scorpion!

There are only a few people signed up for the class right now and if more don’t sign up we might have to cancel. If you know anyone who is interested please share with them.

The class is from 9am until 2pm. Bring nature journaling supplies such as sketchbook, pencil, watercolors if you have them and a backback or shoulder bag to carry them. Binoculars and small folding stools could also be useful. Be prepared for sun and heat by wearing a hat, applying sunscreen and bringing water. We will be walking less than a mile on relatively even hiking trails with some hills.Bring a lunch to eat on the trail.

For more information or to register click here

 

The Last Nature Journaling Adventure Video?

Join me on this foggy and cold nature journaling field trip to the biodiverse coastal dunes of Sonoma County!

This will be my last nature journal adventure post before my  trip to Tanzania!

Learn to Nature Journal at the Hallberg Butterfly Gardens!

 

I’m super excited to be collaborating with the biodiverse pollinator sanctuary Hallberg Butterfly Gardens! We will be offering an introduction to nature journaling course at their site in Sebastopol. Insects and pollinators are not only fascinating to study and draw but they play a huge part in our ecosystems and have been seriously endangered in recent years. As nature journalers, our observations can play an important role in citizen science and creating a record of these species in our areas.

Supplies will be included!  The class is offered at a sliding scale. $45 minimum to register. Please use the ticket link or contact us to sign up. info@hallbergbutterflygardens.org (707)823-3420