My cousin isn't the least interested in the whole "names and classification" side of nature study. She couldn't care less whether in the spring the Blue-winged Warbler is an early or late arriver. Nonetheless, her pleasure in watching and knowing plants and animals is certainly no less than mine.
She keeps a notebook that's a hodgepodge of articles, poems, and illustrations clipped from magazines. On one page she's affixed an article about Spotted Cucumber Beetles, and right next to it there's a poem speaking of spring's "squealing, bawling new life." And from there the eye is drawn to one of her own snapshots of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird sipping red sugar-water from the feeder outside her kitchen window. Nowhere in her notebook is there a single list of plants or animals she's identified, or the use of a single scientific name.
A NATURE-NOTE EXAMPLE
The best Nature-notes are those you generate yourself -- notes about things you personally experience. Here's an example of a typical note from my own journal:
The other day Fred and I were supervising dusk when I thought I saw a yellowjacket swoop down on a line of fairly large, black ants, nab an ant, and fly away with it. Fred didn't see it so I figured I'd made a mistake, for who has ever heard of an insect preying on formic-acid filled ants? I went away without more ado, but then a bit later Fred called me back saying he'd seen a yellowjacket land on an ant with wings, break off the wings, sting the ant, and fly off with it. Then we sat and watched as several times a yellowjacket came buzzing the ant-lines, being very persnickety about which ants were chosen, and occasionally carrying off an ant.
There's not much more to say about that kind of scrabbook, other than that over the years it's provided my cousin with enormous pleasure as she put it together, revisited it from time to time, and certain people like myself have enjoyed thumbing through it, too.
The "personal encyclopedia" is a notebook filled with information that's interesting to you. The information is found in many places and organized so that you can easily find it again, and keep adding to it.
You are the only one who knows what interests you, so you judge what information you want to keep. Maybe something you find on the Internet fascinates you, so you print out the page. Now where do you put that page in your "personal encyclopedia" so you'll always be able to find it?
You might alphabetize it. If your information is about the behavior of the Little Brown Bat, then it would go under B.
Another neat system is one organized according to the classification system outlined on our "Pigeon-Holing Our Discoveries" page, in the "Names and Classification" section. In other words, the notes' subdivisions would coincide with the classification categories into which all living things are placed. Thus, plants would be in one part of the notebook, animals in another. Within the animal section, birds would be in one place, insects in another. Within the bird section, you might begin with the loon family, and continue with the grebe family. This system has the advantage of placing like kinds of information together, instead of having BEANS next to BEAVERS.
At the right you see some suggested subdivisions for such an encyclopedia. You might also add sections on ECOLOGY, EVOLUTION, GEOLOGY... whatever turns you on.
If you keep your notes on a computer instead of in a notebook you may want to organize them in various folders or subdirectories on your computer's hard disk. If you're using the Windows Platform, as most of us are, you can see your computer's folder or directory structure using the "My Computer" program. Find the "My Computer" icon your desktop and double click it.
When the "My Computer" program opens, click on "Folders" in the menu section.
When the "Folders" window opens on the left, you'll see your computer's directory structure -- how files and other folders are organized inside folders, which in turn have files and folders inside them, which in turn can have files and folders inside them, etc. The idea for us is to name our folders according to the categories our nature-study notes fall in. Here's what a section of my own hard disk looks like, as shown by "My Computer":
You'll see that inside my Plants folder I have a keys folder, inside which is another folder called California. That folder is highlighted, so over on the right you can the folders and files present in the California folder. Folders are represented by folder icons, while files are represented by the "e" icon. The files in the California folder bear names of plant groups and contain identification keys in text format. Back in 2005 I visited California and while there downloaded identification keys from the Internet to help me name the plants I was finding, and those keys are stored here in my California folder.
Do you understand all that?
If you do, then you have a wonderful way of organizing your notes! If not, then you may want to study this folder and file business a little, because knowing about these things is a powerful tool when you need to organize your information on a computer.
In a way, my own Naturalist Newsletter archives constitute an organized, computer-based, nature-note system, one that I share with others via the Internet. You can see how I've organized years of notes by clicking on the above link and browsing some Newsletters.
Lots of forums on the Internet are especially for folks who like to share their experiences in Nature with others. For example, there's our own Backyard Nature Forum. Just click on that link, subscribe for free, and start telling others what you're seeing and thinking about. To find other forums, you might use a search engine like Google, searching on the keywords "Nature forum." Try it here:
Many towns and cities have locally focused, special interest forums -- a birding forum in Dallas, an Audubon wildflower forum in Chicago, etc. If you Google artfully, you may find something that's perfect for you, and in your own area!
Most of us nowadays also have presences on FaceBook, MySpace, and such. If you configure your profile and use the right keywords when setting up your pages at social networking groups, you'll attract others with similar interests in Nature. Before long you'll have your own group of friends who just can't wait to hear what birds you see this weekend, or how your efforts are going to save a local swamp. Any social networking group crystallized around a cause or a burning interest will always be more successful than those with nothing special to say at all!