Vitamin N


Are you getting enough Nature?

Recently a friend told me that when she visits a natural area, she feels at odds, like she doesn’t know what she is supposed to do. At first I was surprised, but actually, I think a lot of people feel that way. If you didn’t grow up as a “free range child”, playing outside and forming those early, deep connections to the natural world, you might think nature is too strange or complicated, or maybe just plain boring. And, our modern culture doesn’t favor quiet, solitary pursuits like simply being in nature. There isn’t enough adrenaline, competition, or money in it. After all, an afternoon in nature is free and easy, and anyone can do it.

Hardly sounds American.

But, being in nature is extremely good for you. There are all kinds of studies that show that nature relieves stress and improves health, probably in much the same way that meditation does.

The next time you visit a natural area, try approaching it a little differently. Let your focus drift outward. Breathe deeply, focusing on what you see around you. It doesn’t matter if you know anything about the landscape, the habitat or ecology, or plants and animals. Knowledge does not matter. You are part of nature…just observe without trying to understand. Part of the fun is discovering new things, new mysteries.



Walk slowly, or best of all, try sitting still and quiet for a few moments.

Watch. Listen. Notice.

Life is everywhere. Before long, you’re likely to see movements or hear sounds that you hadn’t noticed at first. Shhhh…  do you hear birdsong, insects buzzing, the wind in the trees? Are there scurrying or rustling noises, maybe indistinct shapes moving about in the trees or the underbrush?

If you’re patient, wildlife will probably show up eventually. If they do, stay still and quiet, and watch what they do. Give them plenty of space—it’s important to not scare animals, but it is wonderful to be treated to their presence.

You might be surprised how good it makes you feel.

The world is working, and you are a part of it.



I did this watercolor illustration for an interpretive sign project for Idaho Power Company.




Watchable Wildlife and Interpreting Biodiversity

A few years ago, the Bureau of Land Management hired me to design an interpretive sign for Dankworth Ponds, a nature retreat and recreation area in Arizona. I do a lot of these types of projects—helping people understand that recreation in a natural area means making room for other living creatures. It’s a gentle way of saying, “Hey people! Animals live here! Take care of this place!”

I designed, illustrated and wrote the text for this 2 x 3 foot sign.


Sometimes I wonder how these images would look to a person from the distant future.  “Look how many animals there were,” I imagine them saying. “Such biodiversity! Every inch taken up by some different species! What a world it must have been back then!”

It reminds me of the Native American tales of long-ago times when “rivers ran so thick with salmon, you could walk from shore to shore on their backs and not get your feet wet.”

(Of course, those tales are probably true. I’ve seen photos of rivers supporting huge runs of wild salmon in Alaska, and they appear almost solid with fish. It’s an amazing sight.)

But, my interpretive projects are illustrative. It helps people realize that even if they don’t see animals in every nook and cranny of a habitat, those little places are all important in some way, at some time, to some creatures. In a healthy habitat, nature tends to fill in the gaps with life.

Often, what wildlife needs more than anything is time and space in quiet, undisturbed places where they can hunt, rest, feed…whatever.  You can learn from them—wildlife watching takes time and patience. You have to stay still and quiet. If you wait long enough, something will show up. And when it does, back off a little. Give it some space.

Some close-up views:

Bass are an interesting fish. Did you know the males stand guard over their young for weeks, fighting off lurking predators? (You do if you read Hawgs, Toads, and Lunkers!)


Mallards seem to be found anywhere there’s water. They feed by dabbling, or tipping upside down and nibbling plant material growing on the bottom of the pond. There are actually domestic mallards and wild mallards, which interbreed and produce semi-domestic hybrids. At some point, wild mallards will probably be bred out of existence.

It’s fun to watch great blue herons hunting. They stand perfectly still, poised with their necks stretched forward, then, strike! Fish, frog, or snake get stabbed with the bill and gobbled down as quickly as possible. They manipulate the prey to get it to go down headfirst. I guess it’s easier to get a squirming critter down your gullet head first.