books · nature study · Quakerism

Call yourself a naturalist if you want

So, I’ve been reading my way through Lyanda Lynn Haupt, who has written a few gems including Crow Planet and Pilgrim of the Great Bird Continent. I do love her work, but there are a few hints every now and again that feed my imposter syndrome. She wants to encourage us to think of ourselves as naturalists, but there is a sense that it must include putting pencil to paper and keeping methodical notes. I’m not sure I can live up to her definition of a naturalist.



It can be a challenge, but I think we should each approach the natural world on our own terms. Mother Nature will certainly meet us where we are. Follow where the spirit leads.

We are all meant to be naturalists, each in [her] own degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of the marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things.

~ Charlotte Mason


connected learning · place-based writing

Anyone can join.

Join the society for the preservation of tangibility. Anyone can join. There are no dues, no meetings, no fund drives, no newsletter.” There is only a state of mind, a desire to preserve what’s authentic, what holds substance, what aspires to the whole.

~ Wendell Berry, from an interview in Garden & Gun with Erik Reece


coastal biome · connected learning · history · place-based writing

Invitation to place-based learning

On the 15th, the National Writing Project (NWP) and the National Park Service (NPS) are kicking off a new event.

The 2018 Write Out will take place over two weeks and will provide a community for writing teachers to get outside and get writing, then share with each other digitally.


The NWP is an organization dedicated to building the connections between teachers as they develop their own writing practice and bring new insights back to the classroom. I participated in the Capital Writing Project at VCU back in the late 90s, and I’ve carried lessons from that summer forward into everything I write and teach. (Thank you Elizabeth Hodges!)

Writers reside inside internal landscapes. They traverse the contours of stories and poems, learning and understanding. They turn pen on paper and characters on screens into art. They write for themselves as much as for the world.
This summer, we hope to encourage you—educators, teachers, mentors—to take your writing and teaching self outside, into the natural wonders of open landscapes and historical spaces, and explore through the eyes of connected teachers, connected learners, and connected park rangers.
Black Point, RI, where I’m planning to perch during the Write Out. Photo from Alexey Sergeev at
Treat yourself to a two-week experience that will be exactly what you need. You’ll need to subscribe by email to get the two weekly newsletters. I’ve spent the summer (since I’m not teaching summer school) tucking away ideas for the fall semester but mostly building my own creative practices. So the Write Out is perfect timing–I’m planning to use it as a bridge back into my teaching mind as August comes into view.
Comment below if you sign up, and tell us about your experience. Let’s connect!



19th century · cautionary tales

Nature savvy children

So, I’m very much an interdisciplinary thinker and learner. What that means in practice is that I’ve wandered through nearly every department on the campus at UNCG and sampled a class or two. Not so good for my student loan balance, but I’m finally finding comfort in knowing that the pieces all fit together. It only took my entire adult life, but whatever, who’s counting?


As a graduate student in nonfiction writing and editing, I studied a few obscure topics intensively: Zitkala-Sa, commonplace books and manuscript culture, and the editorial philosophies of 19th century children’s magazines. What I learned about the 19th century is this: children were presented with more sophisticated language and larger blocks of text. So much of what children read back then reflects both what the editors believed would sell and what children would be interested in reading.

Based on the content of these magazines, like the Youth’s Companion and the Riverside Magazine for children, scholars can find much evidence that children of the time were quite nature savvy. Children in the 1800s spent hours on end exploring outside unsupervised. Mothers were inside the house, mere voices calling from a window.

In some of the more grim cautionary tales, children got lost in the forest, fell off cliffs, and got swept away to sea. But in so many otherOYF_Figure3s, children are outside acting out imaginative stories, creating play spaces, and generally interacting with the natural world. They no doubt recognized many more species than today’s child can, and they were comfortable outside.

Today’s cautionary tales are so much different (sunburn! dirt! stains! stranger danger! falling from trees!), but that’s a post for another day.





Civilians with promise

In April of 2013 I took a course in wildflower identification at Hanging Rock State Park. These courses are not limited to botanists or teachers, they are open to “civilians with promise” also. As an aspiring naturalist, I embraced that label. I was a civilian with promise. I had my sustainably produced notebook, a pencil, a camera, and I was ready to learn how to lead a wildflower hike.

What I actually learned was how to slow down and notice each flower, something everyone can learn. They were everywhere, once our guides, Lisa and Ken, started pointing them out. Flowers nestled among the leaf litter, weeds at the edge of the parking lot: each flower was a learning experience. Our main tool was the Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide, apparently a bible among botanists. Rather than beginning with color, we’d begin with identifying flower type, plant type, and leaf type.


A few weeks later I attended a writing retreat up in the North Carolina mountains. When I first arrived, I found a trail to orient my body and mind to the weekend ahead. Along the Mountaintop Trail and then the Azalea Trail I saw the waxy carpet of Galax, which I was able to positively identify only because it was labeled. I saw a variety of common violets and types of chickweed. The trail wound its way downward, and just after I turned to head back up–in anticipation of meeting my roommate and the other writers arriving–I noticed a patch of small, nodding bell-shaped yellow flowers. Paler than a buttercup, more lemon than butter, they lingered in me for the rest of the day.

Come Sunday morning, Martha—my roommate and new friend—and I decided to amble about in the drizzle, exploring the trails. With just my memory of the nodding yellow flowers, I stopped short of every large tree on the left, certain they’d be there. Martha noticed some flowers that looked like May-apples, but we couldn’t be certain. The leaves were more separated than the May-apples I’d seen in the past, but they did have a single red sprig coming up from the center. Without a field guide, all we could do was guess.

The space under the mountain laurels labeled “Lady Slipper” was clear and ready, life still contained underneath the bare soil. I’ve always known that Lady Slippers are a special flower because they are rare and hard to find. As a little girl, I remember squatting as my mom showed them to me and explained that you can’t pick them, you have to leave them right where they are. We wandered the woods behind our house, where the mountain laurel grew thick and open meadows sprawled out on the other side. Back then, the open laurel blooms, their pointy edges outlined in bright pink, reminded me of upside-down princess dresses

In early spring you’ll see—if you are looking—dozens of wildflowers blooming where you are. Martha and I noticed the bright whites and yellows and occasional reds. We noticed the way the marble outcropping along the trail sparkled. We noticed the sounds of the rain pattering down on the leaf litter. We did eventually find the yellow flowers, and I took pictures from every angle. Even now with the aid of the internet and the warm tea I’m sipping, I’m still not sure I know what these flowers are, maybe some sort of yellow violet.botanical-yel-Vintage-GraphicsFairy1 And that’s okay.

In the wildflower identification class, we learned that we should never use photographs to identify a flower. Photographs can alter the colors and shapes, depending on the lighting and angles. A better way to do it, she suggested, was to use a drawing. In drawings, all of the parts of the plant can be included in their truest form. When she told us that, I wrote it down and underlined it—I like the idea that the truth can be found with imagination, by filling in around the facts. Echoing that advice, Krista Bremer, who led the afternoon workshop, taught us the difference between the situation, which is what you start with, and the story, which is what writers need to work to find. There are facts, then there’s the truth.

We saw the yellow mystery flowers again at the entrance to the path, where I must have rushed past them in my eagerness. Yet, when we emerged—slower and more grounded—there they were. Plentiful and bright, they lined the path, showing us the way. Five years later, I’m ready for a refresher. I’m digging out my sketchpad and Newcomb’s, still aspiring.


pub news

Happy Imbolc

Today I printed off about 30 copies of a new mini issue with a theme of transformation. As is usually the case, the pieces I gathered to combine forged their own connection. I had intended a spring-is-coming theme, but the materials had their own ideas.

27503700_1937402979607208_7594764854054164564_oThis issue is printed on a single page of legal-sized paper and folded into a flutter book. Don’t know how to fold a flutter book? Here’s a great tutorial. Feel free to print, copy, and make as many as you’d like. All you need to do is download the PDF: Friendly Naturalist: Transformation mini issue. There are both color and black-and-white files.

For the next few weeks I’ll be dropping off copies at Little Free Libraries around Greensboro, and I’ll make sure to keep them stocked at New Garden Friends Meeting. Check the Facebook page for specifics.

citizen science · eclipse

Citizen Science Resources

So, you want to do phenology beyond your journal. There are scads of projects awaiting your data, so you can identify and count to your heart’s content.


Art by Jasper Rutledge

Vintage-Pointing-Hand-Image-GraphicsFairyBut by far, the most exciting project getting ready to happen is with NASA: gather information related to eclipse on August 21st. If you didn’t already know this, I’m ON FIRE about the upcoming eclipse. I’ll post some eclipse info soon so you can plan and prep.



Learn about the Old-Growth Forest Network

I’ve gotten on board with an organization called the Old-Growth Forest Network. Our mission is to identify and preserve at least one old-growth or future old-growth forest in each county of the United States that is capable of sustaining a forest. As a local coordinator for Guilford County, I’ll find a forest here to add to the network.

A spring visit to the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest

So far, I’ve explored some forests that could qualify. Nearly everyone I talk to names the Guilford College woods as a good choice, and I’ve talked with Guilford’s sustainability director, so that forest is definitely in the running. But there are other ones too that I’m considering. The Natty Green trail that runs between the Lake Brandt marina and Old Battleground Avenue has some big old trees, and I’ll look into those.

I love having an excuse to explore new places and meet new people, so this role is perfect for me right now. 11134042_10206861187356006_7116718704438768446_oJoan Maloof has inspired me to learn and grow in my love of trees. Read her books if you haven’t yet! Start with Teaching the Trees: Lessons from the Forest, and go from there. Just the sight of the gorgeous cover of this book brings forth a Pavlovian response in me. I’ll need to grab my journal and head to a tree today.