Journaling in Nature 

by Carl Feather

The ink flows from Michelle Vanderlip’s pen like the Grand River flows after a day of rain.  Well, some days. Yes, even a veteran like Vanderlip has days when she “has nothing to write.”  And that is exactly what she does. She writes “I have nothing to write” until something comes along.Typically, being in nature helps Vanderlip’s brain break the thought-jam. The river is like coffee for the writer’s soul, the fragrance of wildflowers a natural sweetener. “You just have awesome subject matter to draw from,” Vanderlip says. “Nature is a healing place. It is a different experience from what you getting sitting inside your house.” I’m a person who needs to be very, very active and busy. I want to get involved in something, and I am really passionate about nature, art and writing. Michelle Vanderlip on why she is part of Ashtabula Metroparks’ volunteer presenters.

On Oct. 28, beginning at 9 a.m., Vanderlip will lead a workshop on journaling in nature at the Harpersfield Covered Bridge Metropark. The session will be held on the south side of the river, in the pavilion. The program is free, but registration is required; call 440-576-0717.

Photo: Michelle Vanderlip rests on a sycamore tree along the Grand River, where she will lead a work shop on journaling in nature 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 28. Call the Ashtabula County Metroparks Board office, 440-576-0717, for information/to register for the free program.

A retired human resources professional, Vanderlip has practiced journaling since she was 8. “They called it a diary,” she says. “For me, journaling is both a reflective and contemplative practice. For me, there is something about writing, seeing the ink flow on a piece of paper,” she says.

It is not about writing a great novel or prose, nor is it about describing nature in scientific detail. Journaling in nature uses the natural world to provide inspiration and prompts that bring forth emotions and events from the subconscious.

“It’s really your experiences. You don’t have to be an expert about nature journaling to do it,” Vanderlip says. “It’s what attracts your interest, what questions come up when you look at the clover in the grass, what memories you have. It’s really about your experience.”

The program will begin with an orientation to journaling, followed by a silent, group hike into the natural area.

“When you write as a group, even if it is solitary practice, and when you hike with a group, there is a synergy involved,” she says. “The power of the group is a difference experience for the writer.”

Participants will be encouraged to stop, observe, reflect and write at whatever point inspiration strikes. Vanderlip plans to allocate about 90 minutes to journaling.

She does not want prospective students to think of this as an “English” or “science” class where the writings will be assessed along established guidelines.

“I don’t think (journaling) should be judged,” she says. “There is no perfect way to relate to nature or to write or to journal. There is no perfect way, it’s your way.”

“I write three pages a day, and I don’t read it, so I don’t judge it until my birthday,” she adds. “Then I go through all the writing I’ve done and I identify those things that I learned in that year and the insights I’ve received, what I want to do more of. The journaling informs the next year of my life.”

As such, journaling is a practice of self-care and self-discovery. And when done in nature, it takes on an element of discovery about the world around us, a reminder that struggle and growth are part of living, whether you are a human, insect or tree. And the beauty of it is that the practice dictates nothing except the discipline of observing, feeling and expressing.

“It’s intended to be an enriching, fun experience,” Vanderlip says. “It’s really self-directed writing. What interests you is what you engage in. It really will be your choice.”


What to bring-your curiosity. No journaling experience necessary. Small backpack with a journal, writing or sketching materials. You may also want to bring a camera or digital phone for taking photos. A sack lunch and bottled water.

What to wear-comfortable walking shoes and clothes for an easy hike. Also please bring a raincoat or poncho if rain likely.

Ellsworth Pavilion

Harpersfield Covered Bridge Metropark

Old River Rd, Harpersfield Ohio