SHOULD KEEP NOTES OF OUTDOOR EXPERIENCES
to the entry in a spiral-bound notebook I found in an old box in my
office, "Most of the time it was raining heavily and later hailed."
Other information on the page noted that "Bob Helms and I collected
at Lake Wildwood near Tuscaloosa, Alabama." The date of the entry
was April 15, 1956. A few pages earlier in the same notebook I had written
that I "collected at Payne's Prairie south of Gainesville, Florida."
The date for the Florida trip was Oct. 18, 1955. Reading that notebook
was like examining a decades-old time capsule.
I had rediscovered
my notes taken on nature field trips from when I was in high school.
Both of those entries listed who I was with and what we caught, which
included 12 lizards and 7 snakes for the rainy day in Alabama. The Florida
trip yielded the first eastern kingsnake I had ever caught, or even
seen. The notes were handwritten in India ink, the indelible ink used
by scientists of the time to take permanent notes that were to last
forever. For me, the system has worked just fine for well over half
interested in developing ideas for future stories or just remembering
what they said to whom and when may enjoy keeping a journal or diary.
But for boys and girls who love nature and the outdoors, a field notebook
is the way to go. Taking field notes can be a gratifying experience
in many ways, and I urge teachers and parents to encourage children
to keep records of their outdoor nature experiences.
technique for instructing children how to take nature notes is to teach
them the six questions that journalists are taught to ask: "who,
what, why, where, when, and how." Start the entry by noting where
you were as precisely as possible and when you were there (date and
time). Who you were with will be important if you later need to check
a fact that you're not sure about. Plus, the memory of which friends
or colleagues you had a particular adventure with becomes more meaningful
as you get older. If you are on a quest for wild plants or animals,
what you saw and heard are critical bits of information. If you caught
something, record what it was and how you caught it. A description of
the weather is always important ecologically.
question may get a bit more iffy, although some excursions are undertaken
for a specific reason. For example, in an entry from August 9, 1955,
I recorded that we camped along the Black Warrior River near Jasper,
Ala., because we were in search of a questionable new species of turtle
that had been described from the area a little over a year earlier.
The description had been based on a single adult specimen. Turns out
we caught the second, third, and fourth adults of the species ever seen,
confirming that it was a valid species new to science. Based on my field
notes and the little map I drew in India ink I could go back to the
exact same spot today. Only difference now, assuming a big box store
hasn't been built on the site, would be that the species, the flattened
musk turtle, is listed as threatened on the endangered species list,
so collecting one, much less three, would be a bit more problematic.
who enjoy outdoor excursions, whether near home or far away, can also
benefit from taking field notes. When I taught college classes, students
were required to take copious notes on field trips. One point I stressed
was that our powers of misremembering events is much greater than we
like to admit. Writing down details when they are fresh is the only
sure way to be certain your memories are accurate.
child how to take nature field notes. Fifty years from now they will
be glad you did.
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