Inspired Ideas
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Inspired Ideas

Finding Comfort in the Rhythms of Nature

What We Can Learn from Spending Time Outdoors

In short, all of our routines and normal patterns of behavior are broken, and it’s unclear when they will be put back together, or how the pieces will fit when they finally are.

Describing Nature

  • Pick a tree or other plant that’s in an easy-to-observe spot and note what’s happening with it each day. It doesn’t matter how small or large your spot is, as long as you are able to observe it consistently. And you don’t need a pristine forest, either — street trees make great observation subjects!
  • Write a bit about what you see, hear, smell, and feel. Sketch a picture or snap a photo. Notice the changes taking place from one day to the next.
  • Identify the species you are observing using any number of online guides (or a paper field guide, if you’re lucky enough to have one).

Counting Nature

  • eBird is perhaps the best known and simplest of these projects. Run by the venerable Cornell Lab of Ornithology, eBird allows you to record birding observations through mobile apps and a web interface. The data collected in eBird is used in a wide variety of research, and their Merlin Bird ID app will make you feel like an expert in no time.
  • iNaturalist is sort of like eBird but with the scope widened to all life on earth. Fungi, trees, mammals, birds — it’s all there. When you upload a photo to iNaturalist, it will try to help you identify the species you’ve observed. But iNaturalist’s superpower is its global community of amateur observers and professional scientists who help confirm or fix those identifications. (iNaturalist also makes a very cool mobile app called Seek that uses machine learning to automatically identify living things you point your phone camera at.)
  • Finally, Nature’s Notebook from the USA National Phenology Network takes a more systematic, quantitative approach to the collection of phenological data. There is more setup required to get started with Nature’s Notebook, including a bit of online training, and the apps aren’t as polished or exciting as the ones listed above. However, if you can get past those hurdles, the data you collect can contribute to a wide variety of research projects. I can also confirm that the data collection gets much easier with practice!

Sharing Nature

The songs of robins and red-winged blackbirds, the green shoots poking through the dirt, and certainly the later sunsets all help me to remember that this, too, shall pass, and that at some point I will be back in the classroom with my students.

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