A different kind of reading: The Book of Nature

Like some other lovers of literature, I’m a bit too prone to have my nose in a book all the time and forget about the world around me. So when I bought a notebook with blank pages by mistake, instead of my usual ruled journal, I thought it might be a good chance to do some nature observation. I’ve dabbled in drawing at various times in my life, but as with so many other artistic pursuits have let it fall away. Some workshops I participated in recently reminded me that drawing from nature can be a part of inner work and spiritual practice, and motivated me to try it again.

Though my efforts don’t hold a candle to the real thing, I’m pleased with them anyway. The activity of looking closely and letting my mind go into the mode of line and color rather than into words is soothing, and good for me when I tend to be anxious and over-reactive. I hope I can make this a regular part of my life.

As I was looking around for subjects, I saw this amazing plant that I had never noticed in flower before — with green balls of smaller pentagonal buds, gradually unfurling into complex star-shaped flowers dangling on long pink stems. What was it??

From my drawing, my son said it looked like milkweed, and he was right. I had noticed the pods with their silky contents spilling out later in the year, but not these astonishing flowers! See what I mean about not looking at the world around me?

I’m going to try to be better about that, and actually see what is in front of my nose. Do you have any activity that helps you to read the book of Nature?

9 thoughts on “A different kind of reading: The Book of Nature

  1. Drawing is the best way to really observe something, especially in this age of point-and-shoot digital photography. What a lovely soothing way to unwind and be uplifted.

    We have a bird feeder just outside our kitchen window. I know it’s not recommended to feed birds through the summer months but we’ve had so much joy seeing finches (greenfinches, chaffinches and goldfinches, the last a delight for the ear as well as the eye), tits (coal tits, blue tits and the occasional Great Tit), sparrows of course, along with ground feeders scavenging off seeds dropped on the ground (dunnocks, blackbirds, the odd wren and opportunistic woodpigeons and collared doves). In the sky we see corbids (mostly jackdaws and crows which roost in the copper beech by the church, and magpies at times), plus solitary buzzards and red kites.

    And all this while washing up the dishes and admiring the garden flowers! Truly the best kind of Book of Nature we would want, always a new page to see.


    1. Observing living things that move and fly around adds another layer of complexity. Birds are such a lovely presence outside our windows or in the garden.


  2. I have noticed in recent years at some of the visitor centers of my hiking trails displays about nature journaling that encourage hikers and trail walkers to do exactly what you are doing. Even those of us who go regularly out in nature often don’t notice details. Though I can’t see myself actually drawing as I was trained at the notorious ‘stick figure school’ I have developed a practice of stopping regularly to look at something longer and with more depth. Because you’re right, we often don’t see what is right in front of us!


    1. The book “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” was helpful to me in learning about drawing-as-seeing (not recording our intellectual assumptions). It really is a difficult, but worthwhile practice!


  3. This is a lovely project!

    It’s so true that what you really see is sometimes quite weird and looks ‘wrong’. I was thinking about this just the other day, I was looking at my daughter and I saw that from where I was sitting her feet looked really strange. If I had seen a picture with her feet shown thus, I’d have thought it was mistaken. I wonder how much our perception of things is shaped by what we’ve seen in art – certain poses or angles, for instance – and then that feeds back into what we expect to see in a picture.


    1. This question of perception vs. reality is really fascinating. We are sort of held captive by the images we take in and assume are real, until we begin truly using our perceptive capacity. Everyone can be an artist – but we have to discard the received images first.


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