Become your own nature connection guide!

June 21, 2024

By Margot Lester, TLC Trail Guide

Moth at Williamson Preserve. Photo by Don Kinney.

There’s a lot of benefit from simply walking, running or biking through one of TLC’s nature preserves. Research has established that being surrounded by nature is good for us – including reducing eye strain and easing stress! If you want even more health benefits, consider nature journaling.

Getting Started with Nature Journaling

All you need to get started is something to write on and with. You can get a fancy journal or watercolor set if you want, but even the back of an envelope and that pencil you picked up at miniature golf will work! You can use words and/or pictures to capture your experience, which deepens your connection to the natural world, calm your mind and lower your heart rate.

We created these nature journaling prompts to get you started. Want to take them on the trail? No problem! Click here for a version you can save to your phone or download and print.

Prompts for Nature Journal Writing

You can write about anything that comes to mind or choose one or more of these prompts:

  • What do I notice (see, smell, hear, feel, sense)?
  • How are my mood, my heartrate, and my emotions?
  • What do I wonder about?
  • What questions do I have?
  • What is this experience teaching me about myself or nature?
  • What a-ha’s am I having?
  • What other times have I been moved by nature?
  • What does this remind me of?
  • What am I grateful for in this moment?
  • How can I express this gratitude?

TIP: This writing is just for you unless you want to share it. You don’t ever have to look at it again if you don’t want to. So don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, usage, or grammar. Just write!

BONUS: Don’t feel like lugging paper with you? Stop along the way to consider one of the prompts silently or with your friends.

Instructions for Sound Mapping

Sound mapping is a fun way to use our ears to discover what’s going on around us. While it’s nice when the only thing we hear is nature sounds, try not to get frustrated if you hear people talking or traffic. Those things are part of the environment too! Here’s how it works:

  • Draw a dot in the middle of your paper.
  • Listen carefully for sounds around you.
  • Note the sounds and where you hear them (like behind you, above you, to your left, etc.) with a dot, a picture, or words.

TIP: If you are sound mapping with others, compare our illustrations. What did everyone hear? What did only one or two other people hear?

Prompts for Nature Journal Illustration

Photo by Don Kinney

Another way to journal is drawing, sketching, or painting whatever catches your eye, like a bird or the forest reflected in the pond. Get more inspiration with these prompts:

  • Recreate recurring patterns, called fractals, you see around you. If any remind you of another pattern (like your veins or lungs), draw those things too!
  • Create a swatch for all the colors you see or all the different shades of a single color, like green.
  • Doodle random shapes inspired by what’s around you (tree bark can be especially fun for this activity).
  • Sketch the critters that you see or hear, including tiny things like water striders or ants.

TIP: Don’t worry if you’re not a good illustrator or painter! Even stick figures and blobs of colors count in nature journaling. The key is to relax and interpret what you see – not necessarily accurately represent it!

Use these ideas to enhance your next outing. And share your work on social media if you want! Just tag TLC and add #naturemoment.

Margot Lester is a Carrboro-based TLC trail guide and certified interpretative naturalist who developed the Williamson Preserve nature moment kiosk as her final project for state environmental educator certification. She’s also a volunteer naturalist at TLC partner Bluestem Conservation Cemetery.

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