Just what is a neoNaturalist anyhow?

Next week will mark the 7th anniversary of neoNaturalist.com. When the site started out I just wanted to provide trail descriptions from a naturalist’s perspective, rather than the bland, “trail is 1.5 miles long and gets muddy when it rains” drivel that you could find on the internet then. The idea was that you could get a naturalist’s perspective 24 hours a day via this relatively new (neo-) electronic medium.

My thinking has evolved from there. So has the site. Most of the traffic used to come from search terms like “ohio trails” or “hiking in Ohio”. Now, the site is indexed and ranks highly for things like “nature terms” (number one out of 294,000,000 results on Google as of this moment), “tree identification” (number 2 out of 1,220,000 right now on Google) or “lucky stones” (Number 7 out of 1,070,000).

As the content shifted more toward Nature, I have begun thinking more and more about the place of humans in Nature and how to connect more closely with Nature. To try to understand my own position and thoughts about Nature, I started writing as a means of introspection on the topic.

That document turned into a bit of a manifesto that clarified for me what the web site is about and what its focus should be. It might have also shifted the way I deliberately think about the world and what I do on a daily basis.

I have decided that rather than keep my personal ideas about Nature to myself, I will share them in hopes that maybe my thoughts will stimulate others to think about their place in Nature and hopefully get a little more connected with the world.

I have posted my “neoNaturalist Manifesto” for download as a PDF here. Take a look and please send me feedback via email to webmaster@neonaturalist.com or via twitter @neoNaturalist.

I hope this is useful to you!


Sketching Nature

A pencil sketch of a Red Oak leaf

Sketching Nature: A Red Oak Leaf

Drawing or sketching is an essential skill for aspiring naturalists, or anyone interested in understanding more about Nature and the world around them.

It doesn’t take a ton of talent, but it does take some time. By spending a few hours looking closely at Nature and natural objects, you will begin to see the details that are otherwise missed. Likewise, you will pick up on the important features that differentiate one tree from another, or one bird from another. Learning to draw those important details can help imprint the information in your brain and will in turn connect you more closely to Nature.

Whether you want to draw Nature as art or just as a means of documenting your own exploration of Nature, sketching Nature will definitely enhance your observation skills.

For more information, check out our page on Drawing and Sketching Nature.


Coming soon to a park near you…You!

Any area has its own unique energy. You can feel it if you try. This character is right there for all to see, but it is actually much more than meets the eye.

A winter scene in Ohio

How does this winter scene make you feel? A picture is worth a thousand words, but being there is worth a thousand pictures. Get outside and find out instead of sitting in front of your computer and speculating!

One of the best ways to get to know the vibe of the local Nature is to visit many different nearby parks or Nature preserves. You will see a variety of habitats. You will notice the results of different management techniques being implemented by the park managers. You will feel the energy of the Earth being reflected differently in the plants, animals, topography, and watercourses.

You will feel the respect or disrespect for Nature that has been expressed by past generations in the area. If you are in an area where most of the forests are growing on abandoned corn fields, you can feel the tired soil and struggling trees. You will see the sparsity of wildflowers. What humans do is reflected in the landscape. The landscape in turn impacts how humans feel and act.

Get to a park. Feel the Nature of your own area. Is it lacking in some way Can you feel the pulse of the Earth? Is something out of balance? If it is, chances are you will feel that imbalance in your own life. For example, driving by a toxic waste dump or landfill can make you feel uncomfortable. Right? Now, imagine living next to one. Wouldn’t that subtly or not so subtly color everything you do? Over time, our environment shapes us just as much as our human interactions do.

We just don’t notice it.

The old Nature vs Nurture argument becomes Nature and Nurture. We are nurtured by the Nature around us. The natural world allows us to grow and develop. We are deeply part of it and it is deeply intertwined with our being. Just like your childhood home brings up certain feelings and memories, so too does Nature. The closer we get to Nature and the longer we spend immersed in it, the more intense, meaningful and real those feelings and memories become. And, it is those feelings and memories that allow us to fully function as humans. Being born as part of Nature and then living our lives apart from Nature is part of the modern human condition, but it doesn’t have to be. A dog that has his tail and ears docked as a puppy might not miss them as an adult, but there is something missing whether the dog knows it or not.

Humans apart from Nature are just like that poor dog who doesn’t know what it is like to wag his tail or shake his floppy ears.

Don’t be that dog. Get out to a park and explore Nature. Alone or with your kids. With human friends or your dog. Nature is out there waiting for you to come to the park.


Hike like Thoreau and Muir

An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day. Henry David Thoreau

In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks. John Muir

Kendall Lake in Winter

A brisk winter morning at Kendall Lake in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park

You might not be lucky enough or adventurous enough to be able to trek around in Yosemite every day like Muir. You might never set foot in Concord to be able to travel around Walden Pond like Thoreau. Or maybe you do get to those things.

Doesn’t matter. I’ve been to Yosemite and many of our greatest and oldest National Parks. Had some great transcendental moments, including a really enlivening one at the Mariposa Grove. But I have also enjoyed Nature at its finest in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, one of the newest national parks in an urban area of northern Ohio. No mountains. No fabled ponds. Just near and dear Nature at its finest.

It doesn’t matter where you experience Nature. It only matters that you do. My best days start out with a short hike around my own suburban yard where I might encounter wild turkeys, a herd of deer, six different species of woodpeckers, barred owls, or an occasional screeching red-tailed hawk. No Half dome, El Capitan or Yosemite Falls in sight.

Getting outdoors and hiking in your own backyard, a nearby local, state, or national Park, or any other natural area is essential to good health. Sure, you can get increase your stamina, decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease, and lose weight by exercising on an elliptical trainer. Sure, you can reduce your blood pressure, increase your concentration and reduce the impacts of stress in your life by mediating in your bedroom or in the office. These activities might help keep you physically fit and mentally calm. But, they are like looking at photos of the beach instead of feeling the sand between your toes and the surf on your skin. No comparison.

Hiking not only encompasses all of the health benefits of regular physical exercise and meditation. Walking in Nature strengthens the body and mind while also connecting the spirit to the world around you. Feet on the ground allow you to feel and connect with the energy of the earth. Your eyes are soothed by the blue sky and the green leaves or the white snow. Your nose picks up subtle scents of the season. Your ears can hear the music of Nature: rustling leaves, melodious birdsong, the whisper of a stream or roar of a waterfall. You can almost taste the energy in Nature on a hike. Your subconscious and your spiritual side need connection to Nature.

You may go out into Nature for diversion or exercise, but you will go back home with more than you bargained for. In every bit of nature you encounter, there is potential for a memory of a deep and abiding connection to God. Within that falling leaf or that flake of snow, the spirit of Nature is embodied as much as it is in the Bald Eagle I saw yesterday.

Start out today with a good dose of Nature by hiking. Make it a deliberate hike. Purposely look for your connection to Nature. It is there, just waiting for you to open your eyes and step outside.


Why should Thoreau get all the Marrow?

Are you the water, the trees or the sky? Or, are you the reflections upon the water?

“I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, To put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die discover that I had not lived.” Henry David Thoreau (Walden).

To me, living deliberately means to live life with your mind wide open. Understand life, Nature, and where you fit in. Too many times people live on autopilot. They awaken to the sound of an alarm clock because they must be at their workplace at an arbitrarily set standard time. They drink coffee (or my favorite, Mountain Dew) to give them the strength to meet their day. They eat lunch at noon because that is when everyone else does it. They work 40 or 60 hours per week because it is expected and because they need the money to live. They arrive home overwhelmed and exhausted. They watch TV until going to sleep when they start their cycle over again.

In a deliberate life, one in tune with reality, we would awaken to the sound of birds singing after just the right amount of sleep. We would be ready to do our thing without caffeine or the electronic coaxing of an alarm. We would rise early in the summer and sleep later in winter. Humans are to some extent keyed in to light cycles and the seasons. We would eat when we were hungry. If we think it out, we would be much better off to acknowledge that fact and then live that way.

Think about the way we eat. I can get berries at just about any time of the year. In the spring, the strawberries are the best. They are locally grown, fresh and in season. I can get them the rest of the year. But, they have been picked too early in order to keep them “fresh” through a long shipment. They don’t taste quite the same. Something is not quite right. A life lived by default is the same way.

You may be able to show up at work the same time day in and day out. You may be able to go thorough the motions. Wouldn’t you rather do things in their proper season and savor them all the more because of that? A Winter strawberries just aren’t that good.

Understanding how we fit into Nature, how our natural inclinations interact with and fit into the cycle of things, allows us to live more deliberately. Don’t accept someone else’s version of reality just because it is there. Do some hard work of your own. Explore a ravine. Hike a trail. Sit in a cold stream. Feel how these experiences change you. Think about why. What do you learn? A Where do you fit into it all? A We each have our own path through Nature. We either know it and live it, or we are lost.

What is your path?

Once you know. Live from that place of knowledge. Live a life consistent with your internal compass. Don’t listen to what others say you should do. Do what you know to be right. That is the way of Nature, and humans are an integral part of Nature. By virtue of being you, you have the right to reach your full potential.

Now get outside and get to know yourself and your own Nature. Then, live it deliberately.

Best Nature Blogs according to neoNaturalist.com

I have been fairly inactive here at the Nature blog due to a hectic schedule at my day job (at Western Reserve Land Conservancy). While I haven’t had much to say here, I have been browsing other Nature related blogs recently. I thought since you were visiting here you might like Nature. So, I have compiled this little list of my favorite Nature-related blogs.

Just as a warning, don’t expect to see the “sky is falling” environmentalist type of blogs here. I do read those, and even like a few of them, but I wanted to keep this list to the real Nature stuff…inspirational, pretty pictures. You know, great writing that will inspire, provoke and stimulate you to get up and go outside.

I am listing these in no particular order, so don’t feel that you should only visit the first couple. They are all great and worth your time.

The Ohio Nature Blog by Tom Arbour (http://hiramtom.blogspot.com/)
Tom blogs about his adventures as a botanist and ecological analyst. In his crisp writing you can get a great feel for the dozens of habitats he traverses. More impressive, however, are the photographs. Tom’s pictures nearly jump off the page in their vivid color and exquisite focus. He throws in some handy photography tips and notes on his equipment here and there as well. If you are into nature and enjoy learning the scientific names of species, make sure you check out the Ohio Nature Blog by Tom Arbour.

Mon@rch’s Nature Blog (http://monarchbfly.com/)
Focused on Western New York State, this Nature Blog contains beautiful Nature photographs. My favorite post is from a recent trip to Ohio, however. It seems that Cleveland Metroparks North Chagrin Reservation is so nice that even folks blessed with wonderful Natural areas out of state enjoy visiting. Here is a link to the Mon@rch’s Nature Blog post showing some beautiful wood ducks on Sanctuary Marsh at North Chagrin.

The Featured Creature (http://www.thefeaturedcreature.com/)
Fun facts and photos of different bizarre creatures. From Yellow Bellied Sea Snakes and baby Pandas, this blog collects photos from various sources compiling them into a fascinating look at some of the coolest animals I have ever seen.

The Everyday Adventurer (http://everyday-adventurer.blogspot.com/)
The Everyday Adventurer is written my a mouse named Ratty. No. Really. Oh Ok. Not really, but that is what it says on the home page. Ratty does a great job of capturing photos of interesting moments in Nature, like a herd of raccoons ambling down a path, or a squirrel on a log. His text is always well-written and thought-provoking too.

Bill of the Birds (http://www.billofthebirds.blogspot.com/)
Awesome birding blog. Photos and text about Bill’s birding adventures all over. From Southern Ohio to Papua New Guinea, Florida, North Dakota and other exotic places. The text is spiced with just the right amount of silliness (like referring to himself as an all around fungi) and just enough about non-bird species to keep the non-birders among us interested. You will be able to spend hours on this blog and enjoy every moment of it.

There are many more good Nature related blogs out there, but these are five of my favorites. Which ones get you all geared up for an outdoor adventure?