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UC California Naturalists interpret nature with art

Art is an expression of creativity, a conveyance of beauty, and for naturalists, it is a way to process, remember and interpret nature.

Many branches of nature art are popular, such as photography, painting and sketching. The UC California Naturalist Regional Rendezvous in October introduced an old but uncommon method for documenting natural objects – cyanotype.

A completed cyanotype print.
Cyanotype is a photographic printing process invented in the mid-1800s. It is best known as the long-time technique for duplicating building designs and the reason they are still called “blue prints.” Now the deep cyan blue can be an artistic backdrop to the interesting shapes and forms of natural treasures.

At the CalNat Rendezvous at the Pepperwood Preserve, Santa Rosa artist Jessica Layton taught the cyanotype process to volunteers certified by the UC California Naturalist program, giving them a new tool to use in educating and engaging children and adults in conservation organizations they work with around the state.

The cyanotype process begins by mixing two chemicals - ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide – to create the blue photo reactive solution. The chemicals may be purchased at art stores and online by searching for cyanotype solutions.

California Naturalists paint on the cyanotype solution in a darkened room.

Once blended, the chemicals are painted on paper or cotton cloth and allowed to dry. Leaves, grasses, seeds, pine cones, flowers, stones – any number of natural objects collected outside may be artfully arranged on the blue background and, if needed, held in place with a pane of glass.

The project is then set out in bright sunlight for 5 to 7 minutes, brought back inside to be washed in clean water and allowed to dry. The areas of the paper or cloth exposed to the sun are a radiant lapis blue; the areas that were shaded by the natural objects appear in silhouette.

Director of the UC California Naturalist program, Adina Merenlender, collects natural objects at Pepperwood Preserve for making cyanotype art.
The director of the UC California Naturalist Program, Adina Merenlender, participated in the cyanotype training.

“I have come to appreciate art as a way to improve observation skills and deepen an appreciation for nature,” Merenlender said. “We offered this session to our volunteers for them to improve their capacity and become better naturalists.”

Artist Jessica Layton, left, shows a cyanotype mural project made by the group. The fabric was commercially treated with the cyanotype solutions and captured the silhouettes of a wide variety of objects, including feathers, hands, sunglasses and a water bottle.
 
California Naturalist Kat Green said she's seen cyanotype before and always wanted to try it, so jumped at the chance to practice the project at the CalNat Regional Rendezvous.
 
"Different people connect with nature in different ways," Greene said. "I don't have an artistic knack, so being able to share this experience with people allows me to connect with them in a way I couldn't connect otherwise."
Posted on Thursday, October 19, 2017 at 10:15 AM
Tags: art (1), California Naturalist (5), nature (6)

Feeling welcome in nature is essential to caring and wanting to learn more

“Feeling welcome in nature is essential to caring and wanting to learn more.” José González (Latino Outdoors), Plenary speaker at the UC California Naturalist conference 

Listening to Tom Ramos and his family who are Yuhaviatam, people of the pines, welcome all the naturalists to their land and share the sacred big horn sheep song was a wonderful way to honor the fact that native people are still here (Mütu č iip qac) and have a rich traditional ecological knowledge to share. This and all of the shared experiences that followed at the 2016 California Naturalist Conference reveal the enthusiasm this growing community has for nature and their dedication to paying attention to natural wonders. Author and artist John Muir Laws affirms that nature can be fascinating wherever you are. With a pine cone in hand we all noticed, wondered, and discussed what the cone reminded us of - "a cobra ready to strike" or "beaver tails going into a hole."

San Manuel Bird Singers from the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians welcome naturalists to their land at the opening ceremony.

Meeting in the San Bernardino Mountains surrounded by conifers and endemic plants and just a stone's throw from the Southern California urban core, California Naturalists and world-class experts gathered to learn from one another. Naturalists are leading efforts to strengthen local community stewardship efforts and engaging the public in citizen science. The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, among others, is extending the power of citizen science for cataloging local biodiversity and the LA Neighborhood Land Trust is working to provide green space to those who are living without access to nature. The power that art has to connect with nature was illustrated by Elkpen's poignant signage reminding Angelenos that grizzlies once roamed where they now live and black pheobes can still be found locally. All of these actions on the ground help build resilient communities and landscapes in the face of the global change scenarios that were presented.  

Naturalists at the closing ceremony.

“UC California Naturalist is creating a vibrant, thriving, inclusive environmental movement for the 21st century.” Jon Christensen (UCLA), Plenary speaker at the UC California Naturalist conference

Thanks to conference sponsors, trainers, speakers, instructors, and our organizing committee, California Naturalists from all walks of life had a chance to meet one another, become familiar with new directions in environmental science, conservation, and communication, and share their enthusiasm for nature. We hosted over 275 participants and provided 60 scholarships to attending California Naturalists. Several attendees and organizations received well-deserved awards ranging from the individual with the most volunteer hours in 2015 (Melinda Frost-Hurzel from Sierra Streams Institute, 760) to the most iNaturalist observations by a California Naturalist partner project (Pasadena City College, 13,383), and the partner with the most trained California Naturalists (UCSC Arboretum, 145) with an important shout out to everyone for becoming a California Naturalist and working to strengthen our network.

The information sharing was powerful but perhaps the most important outcome was the opportunity for kindred spirits to share the weekend, forge new and lasting relationships, and learn how we can best set future collaborations in motion. The value of providing access to the California Naturalist program and working to make everyone feel welcome really paid off in the interactions we had star gazing, sharing at the poster session, and on the field trips.

The California Naturalist community of practice shares a passion for learning together and providing service to nature and environmental science. The 2016 conference showed that working together, we can include participation from Californians of all ages and backgrounds to foster discovery, action, and stewardship on behalf of nature.

Naturalists explore Whitewater Preserve.
Posted on Tuesday, October 4, 2016 at 9:30 AM

Giving thanks for California’s rich natural history

From the 13,400 monarch butterflies currently overwintering in Pacific Grove’s Monterey pine trees, to the salmon migrating upstream from the ocean to their natal river in our watersheds, to the western fence lizard doing pushups on your concrete curb, we are always surrounded by nature in this state. California is one of the most biologically diverse places on Earth, providing a home for over 30,000 species of insects, 63 freshwater fish, 46 amphibians, 96 reptiles, 563 birds, 190 mammals and more than 8,000 plants!

E.O. Wilson, conservation biologist, sociobiologist, and the world’s leading authority on ants says that “Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction.” My hope for Green Blog readers this Thanksgiving week is that you can find some time to spend a few uninhibited, unstructured minutes in nature. Let your gratitude brim for whatever curiosities and satisfactions its discoveries may fulfill in you!

Posted on Wednesday, November 27, 2013 at 12:21 PM

Time spent learning about nature in the outdoor classroom is irreplaceable

On a recent misty coastal morning, a group of 25 adults formed a circle on the beach in front of the UC Davis Bodega Bay Marine Lab. We sat cross-legged with our field journals in our laps, toes digging into the cold damp sand and jackets zipped up tight to keep out the salty breeze.

Our circle was comprised of young and old, men and women, educators and students, budding and seasoned naturalists alike. We were all paying close attention to our UC California Naturalist instructor from Occidental Arts & Ecology Center who was unraveling the mysteries of animal tracks and sketching them for our benefit in a large field journal. She was setting the stage for our morning activity: to explore the sand dunes for animal sign. As we took copious notes, she described the wide diversity of animals that might use the rocky intertidal areas, sandy beaches, lagoon mudflats, tidal saltmarshes, sand dunes, coastal bluffs, coastal scrub, and freshwater wetland communities that occur in the near vicinity. She demonstrated how we could discern which was a front or hind foot track, left or right side, why and how one might determine what the animal was doing in that location, and more. She left some questions unanswered, encouraging us to explore, observe, draw, and discuss what we found. She told us to share our observations and piece together the stories, so off we eagerly hiked to explore animal sign.

Co-instructor Meghan Walla-Murphy shares tips to identify wildlife tracks.
In less than an hour we found raccoon, deer, and myriad bird tracks, nibbled vegetation, an endangered red-legged frog, a recently deceased shorebird called a phalarope, and a large handful of shell-filled river otter scat. We saw seabirds, waterbirds, passerines, and raptors fly by. The entire class was elated when we re-convened in the parking lot to share our observations. 

As I chatted with California Naturalist Program Director Adina Merenlender, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley, on the windy road back to Occidental, we came to the conclusion that not only had we immensely enjoyed a morning outside, recorded some amazing discoveries, and accomplished a site visit with a new partnering institution, we felt like we needed the time out in the nature.

North American river otter scat can provide clues about this animal's diet.
We discussed the term “nature deficit disorder” coined by Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, which points to a modern issue of the broken bond between children and nature as a cause of the rise in childhood obesity, attention disorders and depression. Louv asserts that a “growing body of research links our mental, physical, and spiritual health directly to our association with nature — in positive ways . . . we can now assume that just as children need good nutrition and adequate sleep, they may very well need contact with nature.” 

Dr. Merenlender and I reaffirmed that time spent in nature as adults can also serve the dual purposes of educating and soothing maladies. Indeed, on this outing exploring the dunes we managed to learn about the local area while invigorating ourselves and alleviating the recent stress of rigorous professional and personal schedules!

Data from the first two years of UC California Naturalist Program evaluations support our theory that time in nature is productive and energizing for students.

A recently deceased phalarope provides an opportunity to discuss what clues bill shape or foot morphology might give us about a bird.
When queried about which components of the course students found most fruitful, they overwhelmingly point to field trips. Following in the footsteps of California's great naturalists Annie Montague Alexander, Joseph Grinnell and John Muir, the UC California Naturalist Program encourages participants, through experiential and classroom learning, to be both scientists studying the minute details and observers of the whole ecosystem. California Naturalist field trips are typically comprised of exploring, observing, journaling and learning from trip leaders and fellow participants. Activities may include keying out unfamiliar species, mapping watersheds, collecting data for citizen science projects, and learning new technologies like iNaturalist.

California Naturalist Program staff and Directors firmly believe that formal classroom time paired with valuable time spent learning in nature allows this successful program to flourish and fosters a diverse community of naturalists that promote stewardship of California's natural resources.

California Naturalist students take a field trip to Bodega Bay to learn about wildlife.

 

Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 11:39 AM

California Naturalist Program grows a new constituency for nature

Have you heard of the UC ANR California Naturalist Program? This new UC ANR program fosters a diverse community of naturalists and promotes stewardship of California's natural resources through education and service. Designed to introduce Californians to the wonders of our unique ecology and engage volunteers in stewardship and study of California’s natural communities, California Naturalist provides hands-on instruction and exposure to real world environmental projects designed to inspire adults to become active citizen scientists and enhance their personal connection with the natural world.

The California Naturalist Program encourages Californians to help protect and preserve our unique and diverse wildlife, habitats, rivers, lakes and coastal resources, wild and urban alike. Currently, the program certifies naturalists through 10 partnering institutions statewide, and continuing education units/college credit are available. Becoming a California Naturalist is a commitment to life-long learning. Advanced training opportunities for naturalists are continually offered by California Naturalist partners and the University of California. The program is in the planning stages for a first bi-annual statewide conference in 2014.

California Naturalist’s newest course offerings include two summer 2013 in-residency intensive courses at Nevada County’s UC Berkeley Sagehen Creek Field Station (July 8 - 14, 2013) and Sonoma County’s Occidental Arts & Ecology Center (August 15 - 22, 2013). These residential summer courses provide a chance to immerse yourself in the wonders of California’s unique ecology. Through a combination of science curriculum, guest lecturers, field trips and project based learning, participants will advance their ability to observe and understand nature. Great for teachers, docents, environmental professionals, and everyone interested in natural history.

Please learn more about taking a class or becoming a partnering institution on the website, find us on Facebook or contact us directly at canaturalist@ucanr.edu or (707) 744-1424 Ext. 104.

Posted on Friday, May 10, 2013 at 8:10 AM

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