Nature Journal Quotes

A good friend and nature journaling teacher, Sarah Rabkin, recently sent me a list of quotes that are relevant to nature journaling. She granted me permission to share them with you. Her list forms the core of this list to which I have added a few more. Perhaps some of these thoughts will inspire greater motivation and inspiration to get out our journals and explore the world! I invite you to leave a comment to share other quotes.

“Only that day dawn to which we are awake.”

—Henry David Thoreau

“One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, ‘What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?’”

—Rachel Carson

“Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language.”

—Rainer Maria Rilke

“I see no more than you, but I have trained myself to notice what I see.”

—Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier


“A notebook is the single most important piece of equipment a naturalist takes into the field. It is useful for recording daily observations, sketching plants and animals for later reference, taking notes on behavior and habitat, and assisting in identification by recording field marks that otherwise might be forgotten. The naturalist’s notebook only increases in value as time goes by and observations accumulate. Soon, patterns begin to emerge from what initially may have been chance encounters with various plants or animals. A well-kept notebook that preserves a record of their activities at a particular place over an extended period of time can contribute information valuable to our understanding of nature.”

—From the preface to the Audubon Society Nature Guide to Western Forests, by Stephen Whitney (Knopf/Borzoi, 1985)


“With just paper and pen, people who are passionate about a place may be as well equipped as anyone to protect it.”

—Carolyn Duckworth, naturalist-writer-teacher


“When the bird and the book disagree, believe the bird.”

—Rich Stallcup


“People know they have to work out to get good at sports, yet they don’t think they have to work out to get good at asking questions. If you pose questions regularly, you learn the right questions to ask, and you develop stamina in finding the answers to them. You can keep on rephrasing and reposing questions to an animal until it just gives up and answers. It’s a great game!”

—Todd Newberry, Emeritus Professor of Biology, UC Santa Cruz


“No good field work can be reliable without a written record, set down in the field. No record kept in the head can be as accurate or precise as one in writing.”

—Steven G. Herman, in The Naturalist’s Field Journal


“The pleasure and value of every walk or journey we take may be doubled to us by carefully noting down the impressions it makes upon us.”

—John Burroughs


“Part of the lure of keeping a journal is the world you enter when you open it. Working in it sets up an island of quiet and deliberateness to which you will long to return.”

—Hannah Hinchman


“You can see that there is scarcely an observable fact unworthy of mention in your notes, and yet you could easily spend more time scribbling than watching, and that would defeat the purpose. So be selective, don’t be compulsive, and enjoy your note-taking.”

—Robert Michael Pyle


“Even while you’re in dead earnest about your work, you must approach it with a feeling of freedom and joy; you must be loose-jointed, like a relaxed athlete.”

—Margaret Bourke-White


“Hands-on experience at the critical time, not systematic knowledge, is what counts in the making of a naturalist. Better to be an untutored savage for a while, not to know the names or anatomical detail. Better to spend stretches of time just searching and dreaming.”

—Edward O. Wilson


“You must walk sometimes perfectly free, not prying or inquisitive, not bent on seeing things. Throw away a whole day for a single expansion, a single inspiration of air. …You must walk so gently as to hear the finest sounds, the faculties being in repose. …Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain.”

—Henry David Thoreau


“Spend time every day looking and listening without any ulterior motive whatsoever. Look not as a writer, or as a philosopher, not even as a scientist or artist—look and listen, simply, like a child, for enjoyment, because the world is interesting and beautiful. Let in nature without the vast and complicated apparatus of duty, ambition, habit, morals, profession—look and listen like a child to the robin in the tree. Of such sights and sounds are the kingdom of beauty, the sources of power and joy.”

—David Grayson


“Over the years the content of the journals has broadened to include every aspect of my life. I try to see it all as natural history, and have become a naturalist on the trail of my own life.”

—Hannah Hinchman


“Perceiving how things are is a mode of exploring how things appear. How they appear is, however, an aspect of how they are. To explore appearance is thus to explore the environment, the world. To discover how things are, from how they appear, is to discover an order or pattern in their appearance. The process of perceiving, of finding out how things are, is a process of meeting the world; it is an activity of skillful exploration.”
—Alva Noë, Action in Perception, p. 164

“The world shows up for us, but it doesn’t show up for free. We must show up, too, and bring along what knowledge and skills we’ve cultivated. As with a painting in a gallery, the world has no meaning—no presence to be experienced—apart from our ability to engagement with it.”
—Alva Noë, Varieties of Presence (UC Berkeley philosopher focused on perception and consciousness)


Nature Journal Quotes — 1 Comment

  1. These are so inspiring. I find myself surprised to find that slowing down and appreciating the view and surroundings contributes so much. Thanks for the quotes.

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