Why Keep a Journal?
Scientists, naturalists, and wildlife enthusiasts keep journals to help them remember what they have seen. Many things may happen when you are out in the wild. The purpose of the journal is to record your observations for later reading. If you do a good job, you may discover exciting patterns emerging. These patterns are what usually lead to new discoveries about the world around us.
Selecting a Journal
I have found that small, unlined sketchbooks with a hard cover work best. The journal should be small enough to fit in a daypack, but large enough you can draw pictures and comfortably write in it.
Many people write in two journals at a time. I carry a journal with me in my backpack that I can jot down quick notes and illustrations while I’m out in the field. This journal tends to get dirty and a bit beat up. I write fast since I expect to be the only one reading my backpack journal.
I keep a second, nicer journal at home. After my outing into the wild, I transfer all of my notes from my backpack journal into my nice journal at home. Good journals may be found at: large bookstores, art stores, or museums.
What do I write in a Journal?
This is the fun part. What you actually write in your journal depends on what you are interested in.
You might like reptiles or other animals, plants, rocks, weather, or even the stars in the night sky. Any of these are great topics for you to write in your journal.
If you are interested in what certain animals eat, you may sit for long periods of time watching a particular animal and recording what it eats. You may draw pictures of the food items or even press leaves from the plants they are eating in the pages of your journal. You may be interested in the different animals seen during a hike. In this case it is more important writing down information you can use later to identify the animals.
You may be surprised what you have already forgotten by the time you have gotten home. The key to a good journal is in the details. Not only write in detail about what you are interested in, but also the time of day, the temperature, the weather, and specifics about the habitat that day. Insignificant details jotted down at the time may be the essential clue to an answer you have been searching for.
You also may include information you learn about animals or nature while visiting a zoo or nature center. A trip to the zoo is a great way to see lots of animals from all over the world and a trip to a nature center is a great way to see animals from your own neighborhood!
You may have a question about an animal or other subject that you could find the answer to in a book at the library. After you have found your answer, include it in your journal along with the bookss title and author.
Don’t feel that you have to stick to objective observations. Include a funny thing that happened, your feelings or your thoughts, maybe even write a poem or a song. The most interesting reading later on tend to be the author’s reaction. The next great scientific find may start with your thoughts!
So, you are no Leonardo or Picasso, fear not! Check out the book The Voyage of Beagle by Charles Darwin. You may agree that many of the pictures in his journal were not great works of art. They weren’t meant to be. Most drawings are used as reminders on how something looked. Drawings are essential, especially when you need to remember exactly what color the stripes were, or how long the tail was.
Don’t forget to illustrate landscapes and habitats. Include sections of trail maps, and draw your own maps. Pictures may also be used to describe animal behavior and movements.
Photographs are also helpful. I take my digital camera with me on outings. Print small pictures on photo paper and glue them directly to journal pages. Use picture safe glue or archive safe photo tape (found in the scrapbook aisle in your local arts and crafts store).
Do you know a child who loves snakes? How about a child who loves exploring in the park and asks questions about every leaf, rock, and worm? Or a child who wants to know how an airplane flies or what makes the trash truck so loud? If so, you know a child who is interested in science.
While hiking in the cold winter woods the other day, I began thinking of all the family members, teachers, and other adults who encouraged my interest in snakes , reptiles, and the natural world when I was a child.
Although no one in my family loved (or even liked) snakes, my parents allowed me to explore the woods and swamps near my house, bring home and even the keep garter snakes and frogs I found. My grandparents brought me to reptile lectures at the zoo and baked cakes in the shape of snakes and lizards for my birthdays. When I was 9 years old, my grandma even snake-sat for me while I was on vacation – and my pet brown snake gave birth to over 20 live baby snakes while under her care!
Due to the encouragement of my family, I developed a life long love of and respect for nature and science. My goal in creating Reptiles Alive over 16 years ago was to inspire the same interests for science in other people – especially children.
Watching television shows or looking at a computer screens are two dimensional experiences that have little impact on our senses . Seeing a snake or lizard in a picture will not inspire the same excitement as seeing a real, living, breathing animal up close.
Imagine the difference between looking at a picture of an apple on a computer screen and holding a real apple in your hand. Which experience will give you a better appreciation for what an apple really is?
A child who comes home from a Reptiles Alive show wanting to learn more about reptiles, is a child who has been inspired to learn. An interest in snakes and animals can lead to interests in other aspects of science. A love of nature and animals can lead to compassion for all living creatures and our planet itself.
On Tuesday morning, January 24, we drove to Richmond to meet with other Virginia wildlife educators, zoo directors, animal rescues, wildlife veterinarians, and small business owners who will all be negatively impacted if Virginia Senate Bill No. 477 and/or House Bill No. 1242 are passed. We also spent time meeting with senators and house members to let them know the unintended consequences that would happen if these bills were passed.
We learned a few things that would be helpful for anyone interested in helping us stop the passage of these poorly written bills:
1. Write hand written letters to the Senators and House Members on the committees in charge of the bills. The letter should give reasons why the bill, if passed as is, will impact you personally. A one page letter is best. We were informed that emails are rarely, if ever read. Also, form letters are often thrown out before being read. Hand written letters, from a personal perspective, are the most likely to have impact on a representative.
A list of state Senators, including all contact information, involved in the bill is at http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?121+com+S01
The list of house members, including all contact information, involved in the bill is athttp://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?121+sub+H01001
To find out who your Virginia representatives are, visit http://conview.state.va.us/whosmy.nsf/main?openform
2. Be kind, cooperative, and respectful when addressing your representatives, their aides or any office staff, whether in writing or in person. Keep the door open with the legislator so that he/she will continue to listen to you in the future. The goal is to have the bill thrown out – but sending the bill “out for study” is good too. We agree that people need protection from dangerous animals, but these bills, as they are written, will not stop dangerous animals from being kept in unsafe conditions in Virginia, they will only put a stop to responsible animal ownership and education.
3. Meet with committee members in person, especially if the member represents your district.Plan ahead. Be ready to make your point in 3-5 minutes. Bring a lots of copies of the bill itself and a one page list of bullet points that summarize your position against the bill that you can give to each representative or his/her aide. Many of the representatives may not have read the bill or may not be fully aware of what it says. Also, remember to dress properly: business attire is best.