Nature Journaling Event

Story and Photos By Carlene Cobb

Nature Journaling
One of Many Successful Events

at the 6th Annual SunLit Literary Festival
Produced by Keep St. Pete Lit

. . .
“I only went out for a walk
and finally concluded to stay out till sundown,
for going out, I found, was really going in.”
John Muir

. . .
One of 11 events offered by the 6th Annual SunLit Literary Festival held April 1–3 and produced by Keep St. Pete Lit was Nature Journaling at Sawgrass Lake Park. The Nature Journaling activity was co-hosted by the St. Petersburg Audubon Society and led by Nature Writer Anda Peterson, MFA, Creative Writing, Emerson College, Boston.

Peterson’s 18 years’ experience as a writing instructor seemed to imbue her with a magic formula to successfully motivate students to try something new — walking in the woods, then writing, and then sharing their words.

“I am of the mindset that bringing people into nature, especially while complemented with the arts, can help get their creative gears going,” said Keep St. Pete Lit Founder and Executive Director Maureen McDole. “It hopefully helps people to look at their lives in a new way. Perhaps it can also help with creative or personal blocks someone is experiencing in their life.”
. . .

. . .
Donna Mansbart, a lively participant in the Nature Journaling group said, “When Anda read her poem, I raised my hand and said I want to make sure I’m in the right group because I can’t write to save my life!” She laughed and added, “Anda said I can express in whatever way I feel comfortable.”

The gray sky cooled the day with clouds full of rain, waiting to fall. Peterson reminded the group to notice sights, sounds, scents and sensations while walking.

She led 14 participants, including three children with their parents, along the boardwalk through lush, natural foliage. The group voted to go to the observation tower, but the destination was not the focus. The goal was to be mindful during this sensory stroll that was leisurely paced to allow time for connecting with all the senses.
. . .

Jotting notes on the walk

. . .
“Feel the cool breeze on your face,” Peterson said softly. People pointed at butterflies overhead and snakes below the boardwalk. Some chatted and reminisced. Some began jotting notes. Many stood silently listening and smiling as bees buzzed among bright yellow flowers. “We need bees more than they need us,” quipped Peterson.

A gentleman inhaled audibly, laughed, and said, “Gators around here.”

Near the Sawgrass Lake Observation Tower, a large alligator was indeed spotted basking in the dappled light that flickered through mossy trees on the opposite shore.

“Wow!” the young ones gasped and leaned against the handrail to get a better look. The adventure seemed complete with the gator sighting and photo ops from a safe distance.
. . .

Gator observations

. . .
After taking in the views from the tower’s ground level and upstairs, everyone returned to the pavilion. Some stopped at the St. Petersburg Audubon Society table where volunteers presented information on writing and woodland wonders. Nearby, picnic tables were equipped with new journals, colored pencils, and pens. Blank pages awaited each person’s creative expression. The wind cooled and quickened, but the clouds cradled the rain.

Peterson provided writing prompts from Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Muir and other nature writers to call forth the muse. She encouraged everyone to write, draw, whatever they felt inspired to do. She also spoke about the free-writing method, based on Natalie Goldberg’s book Writing Down the Bones. “Just keep writing,” she said. “If you can’t think of the next word, repeat the word you just wrote again, and again, until the next word comes to you.”
. . .

. . .
It got quiet at the long picnic tables as participants got busy. The three children happily drew pictures. A couple of adults who thought they wanted to draw, were surprised when they felt inspired to write instead.

“I was initially interested more in doing sketches,” said Douglas Land, who teaches art at Suntan Art Center on St. Pete Beach. “But the writing exercises by the instructor Anda Peterson were a good way to try something new. Listening to other participants read what they had written was a fine way to conclude the workshop. We all enjoyed the event very much.
. . .

Douglas Land’s haiku and drawing

. . .
Donna Mansbart, who will be a certified forest therapy guide in June, also shared her words. “I started to draw but then I was moved to write,” said Mansbart. “This is what I wrote –

. . .
Sawgrass Park. I was never there before but to my surprise I saw familiar eyes.

The sound that lingered made me think if this world around me was really in sync.
So as we stroll telling stories and laughing, I found myself happy at last.
To listen to the sounds of the children exploring once more
I was brought through a different door.

When I reached the inside, I felt a new realm
and what I realized is that I was at the helm.

So, I sailed my ship only to explore this beautiful “see” once more.
. . .

Donna Mansbart free writing

. . .
“I was so surprised that I am looking forward to taking more classes to explore this new find within myself,” said Mansbart. “I am grateful to Anda Peterson for showing me the way. What a wonderful time!”

When the writings and drawings were shared and Peterson concluded the workshop, the promised rain finally fell.
. . .

Sawgrass Lake Park, in south St. Petersburg

. . .

Anda Peterson’s new book of poetry, To Begin Anew: Tender Work is soon to be released.
To learn more, you can visit Anda Peterson’s website,

. . .
Keep St Pete Lit is a recipient of the Pinellas Recovers Grant,
provided by Creative Pinellas through a grant from the
National Endowment of the Arts American Rescue Plan.

. . .

St. Pete Audubon Society’s Info Table

. . .

Become a Creative Pinellas Supporter