Keeping a Field Journal

Field Notes to Field Journal – part one


Two bull moose seen on the North Fork of the Shoshone River on 6 APR 2014

Now that we have a few trips under our belt in this area, the process of keeping a field journal is starting to take shape for me. Since most of the trips have been short jaunts, I’ve not taken many field notes, but rather, type them out on my ipad as soon as possible after arriving back home. I’m also downloading and processing photos in the evenings as well. So now it’s down to starting the actual journal. I hope to have a few pages to share here soon. Some of the trips I’ve already shared here – to act as a sort of place holder. And I’ve added a bit more to the Yellowstone Phenology page.

So all of this will serve me well when actually creating the final field journal pages for these trips. It’s not unlike the preparation I’ll do for scrapbook pages of everyday life. Gathering the raw material (taking photos, collecting ephemera, raw journaling) and then creating the polished version – take more time to edit the words, create final versions of the photos to print (whether in a pocket pages format or full page format), and then add it to the journal with references on species pages.

More to come soon!

Phenology notes reconnect you with nature

140127J1010457It’s the depths of winter and here in the Colorado mountains, spring is still months away – May is when things make their big shift here – but that doesn’t mean I don’t look for signs of spring now. They are here (ravens are pairing up and the black capped chickadees are singing their spring song on nice days), there just aren’t many of them yet.

But in other parts of the country, spring is just around the corner, and people pay closer attention to the changes that signal the coming of warmer weather. Because of this, now is a great time to consider starting a Phenology journal. Phenology is a doorway – an entry point – to connect with nature. Simply jotting down all those small observations builds into a fascinating collection.

Knowing when to look for various key points (data points if you will) is something I think is buried in our DNA. Hunting and gathering used to include this intimate knowledge of local phenology. Now it takes place more in a grocery store that has most anything you want any time of year; the “seasonal” aisle simply means the next batch of goodies for the next holiday on the calendar. This has dulled our connection to the world around us.

To create a phenology notebook, you simply need a means to make entries by date. I have examples here online that I continually add to. You can use a 5 year calendar, or a 3-ring binder, or whatever else seems to work for you. I’m still experimenting with what physical system will work best for me to blend in with the other field journals I keep.

Keeping phenology notes is also a great continuous project to take on as a family, a class or as a homeschool project. Phenology provides a jumping off point to lifelong learning and opens the doorway to being more in tune with nature. And, it means there’s always a great excuse to simply get outside more often and see what’s happening.

Shining Hearth and Home

In keeping a guiding word close to my heart for the year, it shows itself in ways not always expected, but when recognized, helps to deepen what it brings. I tend to do a lot of reflective writing like this. So here’s the first entry for my 2014 journal. Photos were printed on my selphy and cut out and simply glued in a grid format. We’ll be doing a LOT of shining of hearth and home this year during the move, so those words will be seen again, I’m sure. It’s entered under the section created especially for my guiding word this year: Shine (under S, of course).


And the text (edited a bit further, so I’ll need to reprint what’s in my journal).


Over the past few weeks, we’ve worked to make our home shine as we prep it to go on the market. This whole process is not unlike watching and waiting for spring to unfold. It’s a messy time – with boxes to pack, painting to be done, and all those little projects to finish up that have been left for so long. Just when one part of the house starts to shine like the first flower of spring, the next minute you have to pile more stuff there so you can tackle another corner.

Like spring snowstorms, each covers everything, and then when it melts, the world is a touch greener. Eventually you reach the tipping point where the rest just seems to take care of itself.

We knew moving into this house it would bring many projects to really make it our own. It was a project house. But many of those projects ended up with small details never quite finished – until now.

I can’t help but wonder why we haven’t done this before. Do we not think we’re worth it? Something to consider. Of course, most everyone does this to some extent. We’ve joked with neighbors that the only time house projects really get finished out here is when someone moves. It really comes down to not making it a priority. Of allowing us to mesh into what is rather than intentionally shaping it around us. Lazy? Perhaps that’s a part of it, but I think it runs far deeper – of how we look at it. Attitude is everything.

Awhile back, I ran across some research/field notes about anthropology. A researcher was taking notes on how a different culture lived. The woman being observed had just finished feeding the kids, cleaning them up and getting them ready for bed. The researcher asked her when she quit her work for the day. The woman seemed confused. She quit work in the afternoon. But isn’t taking care of the kids work, too? No – it’s just living.

When did we – in our modern society – mix this up? How often we look at ‘just living’ as work. I think it’s a serious problem – a dangerous step toward spoiled brattiness. We just want to play on the weekends – which means, of course, no ‘work.’ I wonder if older generations made this distinction with the word Chores. To me and my generation, the words WORK and CHORES are practically interchangeable.

As I look around this house which truly shines now, I see a glimpse of how we might want to live in our new home. Not as sterile as we’re working to keep it right now for staging, but I love the shine that invites and welcomes, and the sparkling effect all the tiny details we’ve finished up lately add to it all. And I know what personal items I’m looking forward to unpacking in the new home.

I’m raising the bar for myself – to guard against glossing over the small details that dull the shine. And I’m looking for words to replace ‘work.’ Nesting. Nurturing. Polishing. Shining. Restoring. Cultivating. Living well. Anything but the 4-letter W word.

Writing Solution for the iPad to Windows (AKA Heaven)

Right now as I work on this post, I’m looking out the window, watching the trees sway in the wind. I’m letting my thoughts flow through my fingers – hardly even looking at the screen. It feels luxurious sitting on the floor in a slice of sunshine that only comes in like this in the depths of winter in this house. In the summer, I’d likely be out on my porch, with a glass of iced tea, listening to the hummingbirds fighting over the flowers and the feeders.

It’s how I’ve found I can write volumes – change location often.

While this writing workflow solution works well, the shift from draft to final means moving the drafts over to the bigger machines. It’s been clunky at best.

Until now.

While sick, I tried again to search for an iPad app for writing that would connect things more smoothly. I searched the store again for my favorite writing software, Scrivener. And this time – low and behold – Index Cards came up.

Oh, be still my scribbling heart! YES! This is missing writing workflow link for me! On top of it all – dropbox is integrated.

I can hear the angels singing!

It felt like coming home again. In a heartbeat, I set up my first project: Topic Life. A-Z plus # and weekly reviews.  You can stack cards – and view them in columns that you can scroll through. AND you can turn it over to put some notes on it! Clicking on a card brings up a long area to type (you turn that) on in settings.


And added a stack of cards for the Ideation Files for the year-long class with Stacy Julian over at Big Picture Classes. Because Stacy is all about color and cuteness, the cards here just needed some color. Though for various projects, the colors will help me keep track of where I am.


If you have a Mac, then Scrivener 2 will take the Index Card files. If you’re on Windows, like me, it won’t, but it will send an Rich Text File which works. I swear this is the biggest temptation for me to look at a Mac for my next computer.

A writing workflow that honestly works.

Taking the back way – a birding report

Anymore we travel through Colorado ‘the back way’ – avoiding the mess of the Front Range completely except for the stretch through the Breckenridge and Summit County. That means we go through the Parks – South Park, Middle Park and North Park. We see much more wildlife and it’s just gorgeous.

Comparing notes from our Thanksgiving and Christmas trips, most of the reservoirs went from not much frozen to completely frozen over, and ice fishermen out on many. The only one with a good chunk of open water was Lake Dillon in Summit County. (Others were Green Mountain Reservoir, Wolford Mountain Reservoir, Boyson Reservoir along with various lakes along the way).

A slice of open water on Lake Dillon 22 Dec 2013

A slice of open water on Lake Dillon 22 Dec 2013

While we often see Bald and Golden Eagles along much of the way, the main concentration seems to be between Walden, Colorado and Saratoga, Wyoming. And we see many hawks as well. I’m working to get better at identifying these birds with many different looks, so take photos in hopes of identifying them later on. I have a new camera (more on that later), so am still getting used to it – and our new truck isn’t the greatest when it comes to shooting from the passenger’s seat, but I did get a few.





Light conditions weren’t optimal on the Christmas trip either way – the clouds forcing me to up the ISO to 800 or more in order to keep the shutter speed up to 1000th of a second or faster, so they’re a bit grainy. But these weren’t taken with the intent to use them for anything more than help to ID the birds and for examples of this type of on-the-move photography.

These photos also help me remember the locations to revisit if I do want to linger a bit in the area to get some stock photos. Such as this spot just outside of Saratoga, WY that seems to be the nesting spot of what I’m guessing might be Great Blue Herons. It was nice of the Flicker (on the left) and the Magpie (near the center of the tree) to be there for scale. There were more nests in a neighboring cottonwood.


We also played “Count the license plates” along the way. On the way home, we counted 36 positively identified states, 2 probably identified states and one Canadian providence. By far the top 3 most often seen (other than Colorado and Wyoming) were 1. Texas 2. California and a surprise in third place – Minnesota.

Overall, up and back, we saw a couple dozen Eagles, tons of Ravens in pairs and in large groups, American Crows, Candian Geese, Flicker, Magpies (most were seen alone, except for one pair), waterfowl (which I need to start learning), and of course, some of the regulars at Mom’s feeders (song sparrows, house finches and juncos). We also saw lots of Pronghorn (mainly in South Park), deer (everywhere – mostly mule deer, but also a couple of white tails), and a coyote following some cattle in the snow, listening for anything they might have disturbed that could become its dinner.

Documenting this way really is a fun way to make the miles slip by.

Are you taking a photo or capturing a memory?



A photographer friend of mine shared a link on Facebook that caught my eye:

Taking Photographs Weakens Memories

Take a minute to read through it…I’ll wait.

Is this one of the last nails in the coffin of scrapbooking?


In going through the photos found in some of the boxes packed away for years, they jogged memories for me of the moments they captured – all that was happening around the ‘click.’ Not only what was in the photo, but everything around me: scents and sounds as well as emotions and details.

Perhaps many people who simply take photos and don’t connect them to storytelling in some way and use them as a crutch for remembering a moment are simply focused on the technology rather than the story.

I would easily argue that when taking photos to document life, as a piece of the story telling arsenal we carry with us, taking photos actually amplifies our ability to remember. It takes deliberate practice and training to recognize, capture, and tell the stories.

Or, as in the case of the photo above, sometimes you take a photo only to realize you’re capturing a memory. I’m certain this gal remembers those shots she took, because only a second or two later, she was jolted to wide-eyed awareness of the rest of the scene around her, and took more photos while remaining virtually motionless while the elk walked by – giving her a Yellowstone memory and story to tell.

I will agree, though, the difference between sketching and simply taking a quick photo to reference later, or the difference between taking a quick image of a display in a museum rather than spending 10 minutes examining it, is a detriment to actually ‘seeing’ and later remembering what was there in front of you.

Memory Keeping is not simply snapping for the sake of taking yet another photo to fill a hard drive. It’s this:

Well done, Apple. Well done.

7 Inspirational Sites for Documenting Life


Our hardwood floors are in the process of being refinished and the past few days has found me hiding from the dust and the odors up here in my completely disheveled craft room that’s partially packed in boxes. This pause in the mess of moving has given me the opportunity to work more on the documenting of 2013 and getting my notebook more complete. Doing this grounds me in a way I didn’t expect. But after thinking about it, it makes perfect sense.

Documenting is a core part of who I am -  a scribbler, a snapper, and occasional sketcher. Going through all of our things this Advent season has found me tossing much, donating much and boxing much. I’ve found boxes of memorabilia and ephemera from other seasons of my life – ones that ended up on the back corner of a shelf or in storage. Sifting through this accumulation of stuff has made me realize I’ve been documenting for most of my life. It’s only in the past decade or so that I’ve found a way to pull it together into a cohesive whole.

During that time, I’ve tried various sizes from the huge 12×12 albums to 8×8 to the current smaller size I use (6 x 8.5). I’ve tried lots of product and virtually none. Through all of this, I’ve paid attention to what works for me and what bogs me down and sidetracks me.

I’ve found lots of inspiration in various places and thought this is a good time to take another look at the inspiration – find what makes your heart sing in these examples:

Gadanke: I have no idea of where I stumbled across Katie’s website and products, but I recall being drawn in by something she posted on Yellowstone and about StoryCatching. Definitely a combination that will get me to click on a link. In (hopefully) just a few short months, we’ll simply have the Park between us and will likely meet in person at some time. She’s also done a TEDxtalk that’s worth watching, and be sure to take a look at the Shared journal inspiration in her shop.

Scrapbooking in Asia: I found this via this Paperclipping Roundtable (which is weekly inspiration in a podcast worthy of your time) and was completely enchanted by the smaller and very personal style of documenting life. Especially pay attention to the last video embedded in this post.

Cathy Zielske: If you’ve ever thought of trying Digital Project Life or any other type of simple, easy digital scrapbooking, Cathy’s got the basics down in videos in an easy, you-can-do-this style.

Ali Edwards: Of course. Full of inspiring balance of stories + photos + embellishments. I especially love the videos she does where she shows how she works as well as the ones where she goes through albums. Both of them really helped me make the leap from digital only to hybrid.

Debbie Hodge: I’ve admired Debbie’s work for years now – and I’ve loved watching her site develop and shift. Her latest, Story Swoop is fabulous! It’s free – and a great way to get the stories down behind the photos.

Field Book Project: This site shares photos of historic field books and always seems to have just the most interesting things to post. Be sure to check out their list of “Blogs we love” in the sidebar. One of these also captures my attention, The Museum of Natural History Unearthed.

John Latimer and the Phenology Show on KAXE: Yes, it’s about Minnesota, but listening to the observations sent in and those John makes himself inspires me to document the world outside.

Just sifting through these bits of information has me once again seeing what works for me and where I’ll likely go in 2014 with my documentation. What are some of your favorite sites for inspiration – I’m always on the lookout for more!

My Guiding Word for 2014

In late 2006, I gave up on making resolutions. After looking back on two years of scrapbooking layouts stating my resolutions that never made it past that layout, I had to find a new approach. I found one small action – just two words – to guide me through 2007: Do Better.


That’s all I asked of myself – to simply make better choices – which in retrospect, allowed me to drop the pressure of perfection I put on myself. Each year since then, I’ve had words to guide me. A phrase or a single word works as a touchstone to use when life’s storms invariably blow in. Some words stick with me for life – because I really took time (a year) to fully ingrain them in my soul. Live deliberately. Trust. Nurture. Right relationship. Joy.

Normally in the fall, the word for the next year makes itself known. Because of this, I’ve taken to starting my new word in Advent – so December. It’s the beginning of the Church year, and that feels like a good time to get the introductions done.

My word for 2014 found me earlier this time – around August – and I’ve been fighting it since. No, it can’t be that. Surely another word will surface. Not one did. It’s been one that’s been in the mix for years now, but always at the fringe while a different word comes to the forefront. This year it showed up alone and continued to stare back at me, knowing it would be the only one. Daring me. Challenging me to actually take it on. The word that asks me to reach to the depths of my braveness is SHINE.


My fears stem from not really wanting to be in the spotlight; it’s not about me. Never has been. But I am an extrovert (and an ENTJ to boot) and being in the spotlight never really bothers me much. I often hold myself back since so many times in my past I’ve been accused of putting myself in the limelight and told how awful I am to do that. But after 49.5 years here on this Earth, it’s time to ignore the criticism and Dare Greatly. To not use God-given talents isn’t right either. Afterall, is there a limit on the light in this world? Can’t everyone shine as brightly as they can? So while a part of me wants to back down from this word, I’m not. I’m grabbing onto it wholeheartedly and trusting in the gentle change that comes with choosing a guiding word.

Giving it a lot of thought, I think it can be like photography – shaping the light to paint the scene – it’s not the source you notice, it’s the thing it illuminates. Now that, I feel completely comfortable with. And to make things shine – polishing. I’m ok with that as well.  Letting my little light shine. Can do. Lots of entrances to this word.

There’s a full year to get to know this word and incorporate it into my life, even though at times it scares the crap out of me.

But I’ll be treating it like any other subject to observe in a field journal – how it shows up in my life, how the gentle change happens. I had considered taking Ali Edwards’ class again this year, but I’m not sure I will since – while I love the monthly prompts – I use it more as a crutch and limit my observations and creations about it to the ones in class. But I may still jump in on it, but have a more distanced approach. It’s a good way to get going if you’ve not done this before.

Do you have a word or phrase to guide you in 2014?

Field Notes to Journal Pages


On our trip up to Cody, I decided to use that trip as practice for all the trips and side jaunts we hope to take once Mike is retired and we land in Cody Country. I am blessed to be able to write and read in the car even on windy mountain roads without getting carsick. This helps immensely, though you could possibly just take some audio notes as easily.

Basically you just write it all down – what you see and notice as well as various thoughts that go through your mind. Phenology is often on my mind as I do this, but you might have a different focus. The process is still the same.

Here’s an example of one page of notes I took:


And from those notes, I did a write up which was fairly long and not really a story, but rather added in more details. It’s best to find time that evening to do the write-up, but the reality isn’t always that tidy. I did my write up a few days later.

I’ve decided that for me, I need to type this up on the computer and print out the pages. Since I’m combining this with the pocket page protectors I’ve cut down to fit the field journals, I won’t add photos and simply type it up as a single photoshop file. Printed them out on 8.5×11 sheets of paper with the crop marks to cut it to size (6.25 x 8.5). You also might notice that I left a half inch on the left to punch the holes.


This is where I’m at right now on this journal entry. Sometime in the next few days, I plan to take an evening and work on choosing the photos to print out on my Canon Selphy printer and add to the pocket pages.

This was wonderful practice and I love adding this to my 2013 Project Life/Field Journaling album.

Time or Topic – 2 ways to organize

This summer, I read an article by John McPhee in the New Yorker magazine about how he organizes his information to write the amazing non-fiction books he writes. He talked about writing from a timeline or by topic, and how when he switched to topic for some of his stories, everything fell neatly into place.

YES! This is what I struggle with. I find writing on topic so very interesting, but timeline story telling is also compelling. This is why I had both the alphabet (topic) and months (timeline) for my scrapbook this year. However, timeline won out, and I removed the few topic pages done and inserted them into the month I scrapped them or when they made sense from a timeline perspective.


And now I sit here trying to sort out a method to document phenology observations from our life to be lived in the Greater Yellowstone Area. But rather than topic, the question becomes by timeline or by location? Or to simply choose one (time usually wins), and create a cross-reference for it. Would I actually keep up with that?

Yes, I could keep it more easily in a spreadsheet on my computer, but as I said yesterday, I see technology as fragile. Books, notebooks, journals are more sturdy. Even with my geyser research, most of it is printed out and filed.

As I gather research on the thermal features (geysers, hot springs, etc.), I keep coming across bits and pieces of phenology from years gone by. And the sad fact is that I am interested in pretty much everything, and as a natural documenting fiend, I want to capture it. A few years back, I started to gather these into a heavily discounted yearly Moleskine Diary.


This example comes from the Field Journal of George Wright (online at Berkley – warning: this link is a potential rabbit trail that might suck you down it for awhile) – his focus was on the tundra swans in Yellowstone area, but I found a few tidbits on the geysers in there as well because he wrote out his observations every day or two – sometimes daily. I also have found notes from my Grandma that include a lot of nature observations from the Teton area – and from their cabin in the Turpin Meadows area.  They, too, invite me to include them.

And it all comes back to how to set it up – timeline, or location, or both or simply just a reference from one to the other.

I’m curious. How do you tend to document? Timeline or Topic?

What week is it?

WEEK 16 • April 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20

A calendar to help us all keep track.

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