CATEGORY / Keeping a Field Journal

Back from Montana

150605J1320206AH, LIFE! It does get in the way of some of the best plans. But I’ve just finished an hour of photo processing from the past week and I’m still smiling. One of the reasons I so thoroughly enjoy documenting life is to relive it again as I process the photos and find the stories to tell. As normal, I took notes throughout and spent a bit of time journaling to help ground me.

It’s through this process that I find what to hang onto and what to let go. Examining the days inspires me to create a life lived deliberately rather than simply letting life flow on by.

But to do this, pauses are needed and lots of time spent in my own head. Hard to do when so much is happening, but even time spent in sips rather than long drinks is enough.

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So this past weekend, we joined family to celebrate a high school graduate in the family and participate in a rite of passage happening in various forms all over the country. It’s also a time when graduation speeches can be found online. Like this awesome one. As we sit on the brink of summer, it’s a fabulous time to pause and look at where we all are in life and where we want to go no matter how many years ago we went through this rite of passage.

Connecting with family we haven’t seen in a bit was incredible. I fought taking this week long break – thinking of all I needed to get done. But it was time to take a break from the blogs and all the other projects on my plate. Sometimes I keep burying myself too deeply into work simply because I love it so. Now back, I feel refreshed and ready to look at goals for this summer and the steps to make them happen. Summer manifesto time.

My personal SUMMER MANIFESTO: To work efficiently for a few hours, then to be outside to read, write, sketch, hike, explore and sink more deeply into the life we live. To find a good balance of work and the chores of simply living. To find a better rhythm of breathing in life so I can breathe out all I create.

While I document a lot of the nature around us, I also document our life. It’s really my personal field journal of sorts. Photos + Words.  I want to share more of the work I’m doing on my year long story book – its been awhile, so look for that coming soon. But for now, here are some of the photos that have made the cut…and are waiting for their stories to be told.

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Species Account: Mountain Lion Kill


MtnLionEntryThis past week I’ve worked to pull together more bits and pieces to get my field journal in better shape before all the spring information starts coming in. What I’m finding is that I have much to add. I’ll be sharing more of the actual set-up soon, but one thing added recently are more species accounts. These are sections in my field journal for stories about specific species of plants and animals. One story comes from early in February of a Mountain Lion kill that happened about 400 yards from our house. It’s the first in a section created for Mountain Lion observations.

The journaling was written up on that day – writing things up right away is important as details get fuzzy rather quickly. I imagine there might be a few grammatical mistakes in there, but for now I’m not terribly concerned. I keep the writing in an InDesign file – and may also add in photos, but I thoroughly enjoy having a physical field journal. If there are mistakes that bug me, I’ll rework it at some point, but for now just make notes on it.

Journaling Reads:

Wednesday 4 Feb 2015 – at home in Wapiti – My normal routine is to get up and take Rhad out while Mike sleeps in a bit longer. We are in predator country – with lots of prey – so I take along a firearm I’m familiar with and a flashlight. This morning, the wind was calm and I heard the Great Horned Owls hooting almost non-stop from a ridge up above us. An inch or two of snow that had fallen overnight helped to send that sound along. On our way in, I take a closer look at the track left by a mouse – who had just enough snow to stay covered, and popped out a couple of times.

As the day slowly lightened, I started to see the outline of the hills above us, then finally enough light to scan the wind-gnarled trees on the ridge where the owls sounded like they might be. Before I could scan all the trees, my attention was shifted to the coyote that had just come into view on that ridge, trotting along and occasionally stopping to try a jump on a mouse or vole. Soon a second one appeared. As this one approached, they moved along at a fast pace, their structure allowing them to nearly float along with an easy gait.


The deer near the house were attentive, and if Mike and I lost the coyotes’ location, the deer would point the way. Scanning the hillsides, we noticed a third one sitting near the top of a ridge, simply watching from above. Across the gully from this one sat another large dark dot – a Golden Eagle – that seemed about the same size as the sitting coyote. Again, we say, “those are huge birds.”

We kept watching the scene, and then notice quite a few birds near the bottom of the gully between the sitting coyote and eagle – mostly magpies, but also a raven or two…and then surprisingly, a second golden eagle rises and flies off. While we can’t see it directly from the living room, there’s a carcass there.

After getting ourselves ready for the day – the outing to see what we can see pushes us along. Soon we’re in the Jeep, to get the plowing done to a neighbor’s house who wants us to work to keep the road open to his place and conveniently takes us by the carcass. We stop in one spot and see the sagebrush is still hiding this cache. We wind our way up the hill and from above, we can see it’s a deer.

A short way farther, we see the unmistakable round holes of a mountain lion – each hole with a clearly defined paw print. It has followed – for the most part – the road we need to plow. I used my hand to generally measure the stride of the prints (as defined in James Halfpenny’s book, Scat and Tracks of the Rocky Mountains) were about 40” apart. Just over the ridge from the kill, where the pine trees grow in a more wind protected area, the tracks wander a bit. Perhaps this is where it paused for a bit to eat more of a portion taken. In one spot, where it took a shortcut to cut off a couple of curves in the road, it came down a steeper bank, sinking fairly deep into the mud as a heavy animal would.


At one point, we notice a second set of tracks heading the opposite direction, but following the cat tracks. We guess the coyote, but it also could have been a fox (still need to look up info on the difference in tracks) – finding an opportunity to scavenge what the mountain lion left.

As we plow farther along, the tracks continued east along the road in a steady pace. We finally reach the house where we turn around and head back again and decide to invite our friend Kevin along to check out the carcass. By late morning, we figure there shouldn’t be anything on the carcass – and as we pass through again where we can barely see it, we’re right.

We head in to do a couple of chores, and then meet up with our neighbor, Kevin, and head over. Walking along the hillside with enough snow to hide all the rocks I found myself carefully following Mike and Kevin’s tracks as I worked through this opportunity to practice my balance skills.

Arriving at the carcass, we see it was a doe and we start to figure out the crime scene. About 15 feet from the carcass is a spot clear of snow – we guess where she had bedded down. Her neck is torn open, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that was how she was taken down, but definitely a possibility. The internal organs are all gone except the stomach and intestines. The ‘top’ front shoulder and leg is missing (a closer look at the photos later on shows it there under the rib cage). The meat from the top (her left) side is pretty much gone. We had noticed the Golden eagles jumping up – likely trying to flip her over. (Gory photo #1 and Gory photo #2 – click on them if you want to see)

Around her are a myriad of bird tracks and wing prints in the snow. And a single line of cat tracks, well covered with snow heading up the gully. So that would mean the cat full from feeding headed to a spot to rest…we guessed probably just over the ridge where the pine trees are more numerous.

We spent about 10-15 minutes there, and then headed out. Throughout the day, we watched birds come and go – tons of Magpies, some ravens and 4 Golden eagles – likely the breeding pair and perhaps another breeding pair. We only saw one on the carcass at a time. A second often watched from the hillside above. Usually when one moved in on the carcass, the other moved out. Rarely did we every see two on it at any one time.

Mike measured the distance on the map to find the carcass was 382 yards away – we had guessed about 400 yards. Nice to know we’re fairly accurate on guessing distances. It’s a skill that can’t be practiced enough.

As the day wore on, we watched the deer and the birds, but no sign of the coyotes again or any other mammals on it. At last light, a group of three deer walked up far enough to see the carcass, perhaps paying their last respects to a family member, and then moved off to the east.

Note: A couple of days later when out with Rhad just before bedtime, Rhad stuck close to me and the hair stood up on my neck a few times. The cat was near and watching. Luckily no encounter with it, though.


Products used in my field journal:

Hello March!


March is here and I’m constantly scanning the sagebrush around our house, and the fences when driving into town for that flash of blue (the photo above, though, was taken last June). This tenth week of the year is about when the Mountain Bluebirds begin to arrive in the greater Yellowstone region. At first there will be one or two, but then the rest soon join in large flocks. I’ve already seen a Loggerhead Shrike looking for mice in the sagebrush – that was the first one to return. Also, the eagles should be working on their nest. The local pair of Golden eagles have been seen around here regularly and on carcasses in the area and should be working on their nest soon – if not already.

The deer are no longer as grey as they were – some are turning quite brown and the does are growing rounder with one or two babies growing inside. Many of the bucks have lost their antlers already. The bull elk, though, still have theirs for now. We can see them hanging out on top of a mountain across from us with the spotting scope – and when the light is right, those large racks amazingly show up.

If you’ve ever thought of keeping a nature notebook, March is a great time to start. Starting with phenology (observations of the rhythm of the seasons) is an easy entry point to getting yourself outside more.

Earlier this year, I decided to combine my phenology notebook and my field journal – dividing it up by weeks, and using one of my smaller notebooks with pocket pages and paper to keep track of things. In it there are pages to just quickly jot down with a pen a small observation, and for more formal field journal entries, I usually use the pocket pages. I like the loose-leaf, 3-binder so I can add in things as needed – but any notebook will do. Sometimes the more informal it is, the easier it is to start. Find something that works for you.


One Word for the Year

One Little Word Intention Garland

An intention garland for my word JOY that guided me in 2013


Ali Edwards has the list of words up on her site. I think this is one of my favorite posts of hers each year.

Those of you new here may not know about this amazing trend happening. Rather than (or in addition to) making New Year’s Resolutions, you pick a word to guide you through the year. A touchstone of sorts. Ali has a class on it to help keep your word in front of you through the year.

I started this practice in 2006 when I realized I never touched my 2005 New Year’s Resolutions other than to create a layout in January 2005. That list didn’t stick with me. But I longed to bring a deeper change to my life. In 2006, I simply chose to do BETTER. It was like taking the first step out of a hole I had dug for myself. Having a guiding word or phrase is so much more effective than a list of wishes to change your life.

Ever since then I’ve had words to guide me each year. Some have done more than others, but I think it has to do with spending time reflecting on the word (that’s where the class helps).

Two years ago, I realized that some words come with partner words. JOY & GRATITUDE taught me that. Last year my word was SHINE and it surprisingly came with the word BRAVE for me. I didn’t talk much about it here, but certainly wrote about it quite a bit. Good stuff. But I have to be honest, choosing the word SHINE scared me a bit because what negatives would shine reveal in my life? But that’s where BRAVE came in.

This year my word came to me early in the fall – and no other words seemed to show up. MINDFUL. It felt more like a command than the suggestions I’ve experienced in the past – and people that know me well may be chuckling at this one. As I’ve explored this word in my morning pages, I see it echos back to a guiding phrase I had in 2007 or 2008: LIVE DELIBERATELY. But more on that later.

As I sit here and look at the list of words people have chosen to guide them, I can’t help but think this trend can really change everything. Look at what people want to bring more of into their lives. What would a year of ALIGN look like for you? CELEBRATE – CONTENT – EMERGE – STRENGTH – SURRENDER – RECONNECT – SPARK?

Each one of the words on the list holds the potential to making lives so much better – such amazing hope for our world sits here. If you’ve not thought of doing this instead of the list of New Year’s Resolutions, I strongly encourage it. Bring more goodness in your life by just having one little word to guide you.

Journal Keeping: Write through the fear


It’s a new year and a great time to start a journal. This is the year you’ll keep up with it, right? Not so sure if it’ll end up like the others with a page or two and then dropped like a hot potato? Maybe you don’t really like to write, but you like the idea of keeping a journal somehow. Or maybe its something else entirely.

Deep down I think everyone should keep a journal somehow. I know that roller coaster of hope that this time it will stick, and then the disappointment that comes when it just drops away. But once I established a routine and sticking to it long enough to become a habit (thanks to the Artist’s Way), I finally started to fill journal after journal.

Each time I’ve started and stopped my journaling routine, it’s been for the same reason. Shock at what starts to surface. Fear that this – this spewing of emotions – is who I really am. It didn’t matter whether I was simply trying to keep track of what I accomplished each day or writing memories or other focuses in my journal. This emotional stuff kept creeping in and then threatened to swamp everything.

Writing is a release valve. And when you don’t release it, you simply keep filling this large dam. The next thing you know, the overflow seeps into conversations – or worse yet, stays locked up and bursts out unexpectedly at inappropriate times. You often can tell who keeps a journal and who has to open the release valve verbally. Some of the lucky ones can do this all mentally, and just keep thinking it through, but I suspect they are few and far between.

Everyone needs to vent and work through issues in their life, but by writing, the venting can go on endlessly until it turns to answers – without the need of someone to listen to the endless complaints. There are only so many times you can write the same crap thoughts before you have to say ‘enough’ – and find some solutions or simply let the issues go.

When I finally committed myself to regular journaling somewhere around 2009, I hit that release valve and the floodgates on the dam opened up again. But this time, rather than shut it down from fear, I let it wash over me, through me, and kept writing until it became a lovely little pond with the regular flow of a delightful babbling brook.

This exploration of emotions is really a field journal of sorts. An inner one. If you find your emotions spilling onto the page a bit scary, burn the pages when you’re done. I did that often for awhile. A topic would come up in my writing that stopped me in my tracks. I got out some other paper and continued on – letting it all out – and then promptly stuck those pages in the wood stove and got on with my day – oddly feeling a bit lighter.

Recently, I’ve found myself writing less in my ‘brain dump’ journal – not from fear, but because the emotions are no longer backing up. This has pushed my personal writing into more interesting directions. At this point it feels a bit odd to not have any emotional drama to really work through. Surely that will return, but for now, a part of my bedrock of truth is that I must write daily to keep my balance.

Looking toward 2015


As I sit here in my office, boxes of files that need to find a home in a file drawer, art items scattered about also in need of a home in this office, I am grateful I’ve cut myself some slack. That resulted in fewer posts here, but it’s also been giving me time to think about how to live our life in 2015 – and set a few goals for the blog and the business in 2015.

Moving here has been an adventure to say the least. Last night Mike and I were talking about how we feel so very much at home here up on ‘the mountain’ – for me it’s coming home to a place that’s more of a home town than anywhere else. The desire to ‘be elsewhere’ has vanished. This is my spiritual geography – and conveniently, it seems to be Mike’s as well. Hopefully this next year will offer many more opportunities to get out and explore this area more fully and share here on the blog.

I’m finding I’ve come back to my roots in many ways.

Next year I’ll be documenting life digitally – using InDesign to create an 8.25 x 11 photo book from Artifact Uprising. I started a document and got caught up in adding in some of the basics in a VERY short amount of time. Digital is the way to go for me. I love analog systems, and for some things (such as my phenology notebook and field notes) paper and pencil win. But documenting life overall – that’s going to be digital.

Since I know there’s a learning gap out there for those wanting to do photo books, I’ll be adding in more posts about how I create in InDesign (and will heartily welcome tips on how to do things more efficiently – I’m self-taught on this, so am guessing I’m missing some shortcuts). I’ll also share tips for Photoshop. I’m a teacher at heart – so this is also a way to get back to my roots. I’m excited to share what I know with you, and to learn from you as well. If there’s something you want to know how to do, leave a comment.

I have a few projects that are going to suck up a lot of the first quarter of next year, so posts here may not be terribly regular, but that’s a goal for me in the coming year, as well as posts up on my other blog. For those of you who still follow this one despite my recent inconsistency, I deeply thank you.

Telling the stories of life

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It’s snowing today. This is, hands down, my favorite weather to make headway on writing or scrapbooking projects. We’re home after a week long trip to Colorado to visit family and friends and collect some of the last items we had there that needed to come up north.

This morning I sat in front of my computer with the 75 or so iPhone photos I took as well as ones taken from the big camera. So many little stories, but I long to dive deeper and tell the more significant stories. The lack of these stories bothers me about my Project Life/Topic Life system. The smaller stories are fine, but they need the balance only the longer ones give.

Take this photo for example. Fingers of steam rising from Boysen Reservoir were so magical I almost asked Mike to stop so I could move in closer. But farther away captures the large steam cloud we saw from a distance. A little farther down the road we ran into lake effect snow from all that steam. Not much, but still interesting to see.

That’s the story of this photo out of context.

The longer story involves much more, including:

  • Watching the weather to see when our window to slide north would open.
  • Thinking of Grandmother who always insisted we never travel on the 13th of the month.
  • How surprised we were to see 80 mph as the speed limit in Wyoming on I-25 and how that triggered a memory of when the speed limit dropped to 55 mph in the 1970s. 80 mph makes much more sense in these wide open spaces.
  • How driving home this time showed me we’ve made a personal polar shift – from South to North. From vast amounts of people to very few – from work to retirement. This shift feels complete now that a couple of loose ends were tended to.
  • And how one week shifted us from warm fall days to below freezing winter temps.

So how do I weave all of this together? In all honesty, it takes outlining it as I’ve done above to sort it all out. The longer story will be written under Personal Polar Shift – and I’ll be using quite a few “See Also” prompts for the stories such as Grandmother’s triskaidekaphobia and the memory of Driving 55. Those will likely go under the Numbers section of my Topic Life – 13 and 55.

So very grateful I’ve made the decision to not jump in on all the holiday challenges out there, but instead to simply focus on getting the stories of 2014 told for this last quarter of the year – I’ve been writing up a storm on my iPad and am ready gather photos and create entries.

Journal Keeping – Openings

Welcome November. This morning I sat down again to write down some of the stories from this past week on my iPad. Thanks to Ali Edwards’ Week in the Life, I have many more everyday stories down and photos to illustrate them. In October, I also took Cathy Zielske’s class, Me: The Abridged Version (Project Life).

Both have helped me get back into the habit of writing the stories regularly. Somewhere during the summer craziness, I must have stopped writing so much. Looking at the writing app I use, there were many gaps, but delightful reads I wrote, but never added to the binder – which is fine. That’s what I’ve planned for the last quarter of this year.

The problem was a simple one: I stopped opening up the app.

What you open, you will use.

One of the secrets of writing is to create the habit of writing regularly. To do that, it starts with the habit of opening up the app or notebook you want to use.

The reverse works as well – to break a bad habit, don’t “open” what starts it.

If you’ve had trouble keeping a journal in the past, this is a great time to start building that habit for however you want to document life or a particular topic in 2015. Start with what works for you – a physical journal/notebook, an app on your phone/ipad/computer. It really doesn’t matter which, just pick something to try out.

No need to really commit to more than say, this month. Find something that might work, or pick up something that sort of worked in the past and simply have the goal of opening it regularly. Maybe two or three times a day, maybe just once. But commit to the habit of opening it up regularly and you’ll find yourself keeping a journal more easily.

October Shows the Story


Did you catch the Blood Moon or Hunter’s Moon the other night? Wasn’t it amazing? Mike and I also got up in the wee hours of the morning to see the full eclipse here, but I didn’t take even one photo. Fun to see, though.

October is a transition month – from fall to winter, from outside to inside. From everydays to holidays.

I’ve not paid as much attention to my Topic Life Book during the summer, though I took notes and photos knowing I’d have time once we started to be inside more. That’s one of the benefits of switcing to a topic based scrapbooking system. Less pressure. More flexibility to live your life and record it as well. There’s really no way to get behind with this system once you see it in its fullness.

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Now that things are settling down for a bit – or at least pausing slightly – I’m ready to spend more time telling the stories of 2014. I realized I needed a summary sheet of what topics were already entered to better see what holes still need filling. Pink are the things complete – blue are ideas to add and pink underlined in blue needs fleshing out more.

A few subtopics need sections of their own – Selling the Colorado House – Househunting – Moving in – as well as some other year long focuses that could be mini-albums on their own, but for this year, they’re just going in as their own sections: Shine (my guiding word for the year) and my Field Journal. We had a small bit of time to really spend time outside, enjoying this area, but not enough to create a good body of work. Later on this section may come out and go into its own album, but for now, its home is in the 2014 album.

This is my game plan – my focus – to end with a completed album of my dreams by December 31, ready to start the next one in 2015.

Two classes I’m taking over at Big Picture Classes are also part of the game plan. Stacy Julian’s Inspired Scrapbooking (which helped me see I needed the overarching story of 2014: The Move) and Cathy Zielske’s Me: The Abridged Version Project Life style. Basically her class is the same topic-based system as a yearly summary. A great way to try out this system to see if it might work for you.

I find it fascinating that we both seemed to have been working on this topic style about the same time – she was inspired by a book, and I have been working on this for a few years mainly inspired from other books – actually one of my favorite authors, John McPhee, whose stories are vastly more interesting because they are told by topic first, timeline second. Well, that and my life-long love of organizing alphabetically and the ease of finding things through that system (did research at the Clerk and Recorder’s office years ago before anything was online). I did take her previous class on this and found it meshing so well with all I had been working on as well. Cool.

Maybe it’s October – the 10th month of the year where you start to look back and can see the story this year has told. And it comes before the rush of the holiday season.

Excited to get more stories added in and share some of them here.


New Product: Printable Perpetual Calendars


Since we moved here last spring, I’ve been working to figure out the best way to keep a phenology calendar. And, I’ve been toying around with Calendar Journaling.

All of it is coming together for me through the creation of a printable perpetual weekly calendar –  now in the shop.

But it’s not just a pdf file. Included are all the page toppers as png files to easily recolor, as well as a printable index.

I decided to go with a weekly system as it won’t fill up the binders immediately, but also allows for printing out just the extra pages you need.

I’ve also expanded out the area in which to write to match the sliced and diced page protectors I use. But you could easily cut them down to fit your smaller documenting system.

Adding in an index allows me to quickly find information – old school, yes, but it works.


On sale now through the end of the month.

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