Creative Connections: An Invitation to BEGIN

Begin!ShaunaP.

Keeping a journal is a powerful way to capture your journey. By looking closely, listening deeply, and capturing that experience, it allows you to discover, remind or reflect on the things you have seen, the remarkable places you have visited—even if this happens to be in your own backyard or beyond.

There are so many ways to utilize a journal—the scientific field journal, personal journaling, bioregional journals, art journals, travel journals, professional journals. The most important part of each of these is universal—you must BEGIN.

So as we start this New Year, this is heartfelt encouragement to grab paper and pen, dig up an unfinished journal or go find yourself a fresh one that can travel with you and BEGIN.

Journaling is actually one of my greatest passions. I began journaling through writing; utilizing journals both for studying the environment while in school and while doing field work as well as keeping personal journals to capture the chapters of my life. During this time, I never delved into drawing unless attempting to create a map of an area or capture some morphology of a plant or animal in order to confirm its identification.

Then—something remarkable happened. With encouragement, I was given safe space to try to draw in my journal—and these early drawings, I can assure you are not beautiful, yet served a valuable purpose, they gave me a place to BEGIN.

Journaling Shauna P.

Observing closely reveals details and patterns; it opens up a new level of understanding such as how the scales of a giant sequoia cone can hold nearly 200 hundred tiny seeds.

Now, with many rough drawings behind me, my journals have a new colorful and artistic element to them—which is not necessary, yet it demonstrates how continued dedication to journaling can transform itself over time.

If the thought of drawing fills you with fear then take this suggestion: write! Do what works for you—just BEGIN.

Don’t lose the opportunity to capture your experience because of fear of your writing or fear of your drawing. Be brave and put pen to paper, capture these fleeting moments and make them more powerful and concrete; create something meaningful and lasting. Today, you may have no idea how meaningful these early journaling efforts may become.

Don't miss the opportunity to get out there!

Don’t miss the opportunity to get out there!

Whether you would like to add journaling to your personal life, are looking for a meaningful family activity that can inspire young children to connect to nature, or if you want to add field journaling to your scientific studies, here are some great ways to get started, stay motivated and be inspired:

1)   Get out there! Grab paper and pen or pencil (one that you really like) and get outside. Slow down… sit quietly, observe and capture. What do you see? What do you hear? What time of day is it? Where are you? Write about your experience or draw what you see. Look at the landscape (big picture) or observe something small and close up. You don’t need fancy tools or training, you just need space to BEGIN.

2)   Take a journaling class: many art centers, nature centers and native plant nurseries offer journaling classes or nature clubs, which can introduce individuals to journal techniques and offer regular field excursions. This is a great way to get inspired, learn new ways of “seeing”, meet new people and… did someone say “Field trip”?!!!!!

3)   Families can journal together! This is a powerful way to encourage young scientists, writers and artists to observe closely and become connected to patterns, seasons, and ecology. This is also a way to provide quality family time and create something meaningful together.

4)   Pick up a journaling book, especially if you prefer to have examples and guidance; there are an incredible number of resources on journaling techniques out there. These can be truly inspirational as they often give you glimpses into other people’s journals and you can see how varied peoples styles are… and trust me, you will have your own style to add to this diverse mix too!

5)   My favorite rule is NO RULES! This is the primary principle in the journal classes I teach. Why? Because if constructs are going to hold someone back from beginning, then it isn’t serving them. So, do what feels natural—write, draw and BEGIN. As time goes on, there will be plenty of opportunities to hone and develop entries—so, do what works today—take pictures, do a collage, write a paragraph, poem or prose, whatever it takes to start!

Journaling is a powerful way to observe nature and the ecology around us. It can help us make connections by looking closely–such as what animals are around at certain times of year, when do the trees begin to leaf out, the flowers bloom and in what order, when do the acorns drop and the trees go dormant—or for this year… how cold is it or how dry?—depending on where you are. In addition, we can make connections not just within this season but from year to year, discovering variations and patterns.

It is also a profound way to capture our life journey and demonstrate how unique our lives are and how connected to place we can become. Our own journals can become our most profound teachers. We may capture moments and observations that serve as important discoveries in hindsight—answering the questions, “When did I see that last year” or “Is that how I was feeling then”? Through journaling, we may discover that perfect place that gives us the space we need to just be present.

A drawing from student, Jesus Angel Dolores, who once introduced to writing and drawing in a journal has now kept a journal each summer for several years.

A drawing from student, Jesus Angel Dolores, who upon being introduced to writing and drawing in a journal has now kept a journal each summer for several years.

There is also no denying how transformative encouraging youth to keep a journal can be. With busy lives and student demands, the opportunity to slow down, observe closely, discover, question deeply, and fall in love with nature and the world around us, can be truly powerful.  Students can discover and hone their own writing, artistic and observational abilities. They can begin to capture the chapters of their lives and perhaps make profound discoveries we could never even imagine.

Of course, all of these amazing outcomes can only happen if we BEGIN!

Resources:

Books

Clare Walker Leslie: Great resources for getting started and staying motivated. http://www.clarewalkerleslie.com/books.htm

Michael Canfield Field Notes: Amazing book that shows an array of journal styles for science and field studies. http://www.canfieldnotes.com/

Classes (California… get inspired and look for a class near you!)

John Muir Laws: Features workshops, demonstration videos and information on a Bay Area Nature Club. http://www.johnmuirlaws.com/

Intermountain Nursery: Nature journaling class with Shauna Potocky, offered at a beautiful native plant nursery, Saturday, August 16, 2014. http://www.intermountainnursery.com/classes.htm

Photo credits:

Journals, Shauna Potocky;

Valley Rim and Shauna P., Kirk Keeler;

Journaling, Kirk Keeler;

Stellar Jay from the journal of student Jesus Angel Dolores; Jesus Angel Dolores.

Quiet Giants and the Legacy of Public Lands: Part 2 of 2

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by Shauna Potocky

The dirt road leads to a fork, and from here you must decide, which path to take. The forest here, now in fall, is a mix of Black oaks, Pacific dogwoods, pines and firs. The light is filled with colorful foliage, illuminated gold, flaming red, greens in every hue. The air is crisp and the ground just damp after the first rains of the season. The road, in either direction, winds through the forest and leads you to a grove of Giant Sequoias (Sequoia giganteum).

The Nelder Grove is located in the Sierra National Forest of California, south of the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias that reside within Yosemite National Park. This grove, named for John A. Nelder, a retired miner who once called the grove his home, stands stoic and beautiful in the mixed conifer forest—revealing for all to see, it’s past.

Not all giant sequoia groves benefited from early government protection, as the Mariposa Grove did during the mid to late 1800’s and early 1900’s, and thus, some Sequoia groves were logged—massive trees felled for timber. The irony of which proved to be that the wood was not ideal for building since, when the tree fell it often broke apart—shattered or splintered. Thus, many of these logged trees were made into shingles, stakes and other smaller scale items.

The Nelder Grove had such a fate. In the late 1800’s, the grove was logged by timber operations. Today, among the approximately 100 standing mature and majestic sequoias are gigantic silent stumps that tell of the groves’ past. Just as the standing glorious trees, these stumps too, make one stop in awe—they take your breath away.

The realization that some of these trees have been cut down, in fact deepens the importance for all the trees which remain.ImageImage

There is truly an extraordinary gift in this grove. Here, among the tales of history, are some extraordinarily old and massive sequoias and among them, young sequoias reaching upwards. Together, they stand in a grove that is lightly visited and teeming with biodiversity—a forest thriving with the song of birds, the echoing pound of woodpeckers, the flow of running rivers and creeks.

This provides countless teaching opportunities—sharing with students and visitors the ecology, fire history, and species that call this area home, including one of the Sierra’s most elusive sensitive species, the Pacific fisher. Along side biology and ecology is the deep and rich history of this place; once used, the lessons learned, the values gained and protections established so these trees and their story can be told for generations to come.  And it doesn’t end there—there is a remarkable human story too, from the historic figures to the people who care for the grove now.

The grove came under management by the United States Forest Service in 1928. A campground was established and the grove benefited by the presence of campground hosts. John and Marge Hawksworth served in this role and together they assisted and educated visitors; going on to care for the grove for more than 20 years. While doing so they also passed a great love of the grove down to their children, grandchildren, and great grand children.

One of those grandchildren was Brenda Negley; Brenda fell so deeply in love with the Nelder Grove, that today, Benda and her family serve as the grove’s campground hosts—continuing a legacy of sharing the grove with visitors, educating people about the history and being stewards to this remarkable place.

In total, Brenda’s family has cared for the grove, in various capacities for over twenty-six years. Together, they tirelessly help to maintain the exhibits that are displayed throughout the summer and assist visitors with campground access and information regarding trails. Without a doubt, if you see a smiling, approaching face in the grove, it is almost assuredly, Brenda.

For this service, her family has received some notable honors, which now includes the 2012 United States Forest Service national award for Volunteer Campground Host of the Year.

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Along with this recognition, there have also been recent achievements for the grove including the establishment of a non-profit organization, Friends of Nelder Grove, Inc., which seeks to share and preserve the grove and its history, while making it accessible for the public to enjoy.

Then there are the unexpected surprises, the ones that confirm how truly important the stewardship and access to public lands, like the Nelder Grove, are to people all over the world.

During the recent government shutdown, visitors were unable to travel into Yosemite National Park to visit the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. Yet, these same visitors, who came from all over the world to see giant sequoias, driven by the desire to see even just one tree, if just for a moment, made the trek down the dirt road to that same fork framed by oaks, dogwoods and pines. Their journey and moments of inspiration in the Nelder Grove, affirm that the preservation of these quiet giants in all their glory—instead of being used as a resource by a select few—are worth more when preserved for the benefit of everyone.

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Cool Fact: John Muir and John Nelder met in the fall of 1875, when Muir was exploring the region in search of giant sequoias. Named the Fresno Grove at the time of their meeting, the grove and Mr. Nelder are captured in Muir’s writings: Our National Parks, Chapter IX: The Sequoia and General Grant National Parks.

Cool Fact: Brenda’s husband proposed to her under the sequoia tree named for her grandparents, the Hawksworth tree.

Photo credits:

Award photo: Courtesy of Brenda Negley and Friends of Nelder Grove, Inc.

Sequoia photo credits: Shauna Potocky

Quiet Giants and the Legacy of Public Lands: Part 1 of 2

By Shauna Potocky

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Public lands are by far one of the greatest gifts we have been given. They were saved by passionate people who came long before us; today, teams of inspired managers, educators, scientists, and volunteers work tirelessly to keep these amazing places open to us and protected for generations to come.

The birth of these legacies emerged in part, due to the work and passion of Galen Clark, a man who was inspired while standing amongst quiet giants—the Giant Sequoias of the Mariposa Grove. Galen helped to capture the interest and support of many other individuals and from this a legacy was born. On June 30, 1864 the first land grant of its kind emerged, the Yosemite Grant. Signed by President Abraham Lincoln, the Yosemite Grant protected Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias for all time—a legacy that created the foundation for what would eventually become our state and national parks.

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This gift of land preservation remains as profound today as it was then—yet, the true depth of this gift might still be emerging. Beyond the legacy, for example, the Mariposa Grove is teaching us—it is influencing how we understand and work within natural systems—from fire ecology to hydrology, sensitive species to ecosystem restoration; the grove serves as an important center of emerging knowledge.

When you consider that areas like the Mariposa Grove are some of the most protected land in our country—they become critically important classrooms and areas of study. Generally, protected with its natural systems intact, we can see precisely the effect of various management strategies and impacts. The results of these observations are impressive and profound.

One example of the lessons learned in the Mariposa Grove, is the influence of fire and the importance of its occurrence in Sierra Nevada ecosystems. This region evolved with fire as a natural part of its processes; a variety of trees and plants exhibit fire adaptations and require fire for germination—including the Giant Sequoia.

From the time of early settlers and holding fast in many areas even today, is the belief that fire is destructive and should be suppressed. Yet, the Grove has shown us a different perspective; when fire was suppressed in the Mariposa Grove for decades, concern emerged due to the lack of new sequoia seedlings. Land managers and scientists questioned this issue and eventually attempted to reintroduce fire into the ecosystem, with the result of new seedlings emerging.

What was found is that sequoias benefited from the understory fuels being cleared from the forest floor; the burned materials restored nutrients to the soil, opened space for germination and a new generation of seedlings could take root. Today, we see the importance of reducing fuel loads in order to maintain healthy ecosystems as well as reduce the risk of severe fires.

The lessons in the Mariposa Grove don’t end with fire ecology; in fact this grove has influenced our understanding of hydrology changes and impacts, invasive species, and plays a significant role in connecting people to nature.

Invasive species removal Mariposa Grove Ian Ojeda

Imagine putting your own hands to work protecting a Giant Sequoia in the Grove where the idea of land preservation began. Each year, volunteers of all ages work to restore impacted areas, remove invasive species and ultimately, become stewards to the environment.

What grows out of this service is a whole new generation of people with a passion for protecting some of the greatest natural wonders in the world—our ecosystems… and they take these lessons home to their own communities.

Galen Clark couldn’t haven known that his passion for the Giant sequoias in the Mariposa Grove would play such a significant role in the creation of public lands or transforming our understanding of natural systems. What he did know was that the Grove was awe-inspiring and worthy of protection.

What will your passion help to protect?

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Part 2: Ponder the legacy of a sequoia grove that did not receive the same protection—you might just be surprised at what we find! Scheduled for release November 2013.

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Cool Fact: Through the Yosemite Grant, State Parks had been created, and from this, eventually National Parks would emerge. In 2014 we have the honor of celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the Yosemite Grant and State Parks!

Photo credits: Shauna Potocky; National Park Service; Ian Ojeda; National Park Service.