I come from a family of nature and art lovers. My mom loves horses and taking pictures of wildlife. My dad could spend all day snorkeling in the beautiful waters off the coast of Florida. My grandma has been known to hand draw personalized cards for my kids. So, when my Aunt Sharon talked about her frequent visits out to Cattail Marsh, I wasn’t surprised that she had fallen in love with the beautiful landscape tucked away in Tyrrell Park. But, she’s not just visiting. Sharon Rigsby has turned her love of nature into works of art and she’s hoping to share her passion with others in the community.
“We started going out there years ago, just bringing lawn chairs and sitting,” Sharon explains. “We watch the sun go down and listen to all of the sounds of nature. It really is an amazing experience.”
For her day job, Sharon is the Murray J. Frank Planetarium teacher for the Beaumont Independent School District. The goal at the planetarium is to “encourage the thoughtful, observing and curious scientists” in all of the students in Beaumont. She never stops teaching others about her passion of science and nature. As soon as we started talking about her visits to Cattail Marsh, I learned something new.
“There is a really cool word - Biophony - which is the sounds of animals and nature,” explains Sharon. “The frogs croaking, the insects singing, even the gators doing mating calls, it’s something you just have to stop and really listen too.”
Cattail Marsh includes 900 acres of wetlands and is a wildlife refuge for more than 250 species of birds and other wildlife. In the summer of 2016, a new boardwalk and viewing platforms were opened to provide new access and incredible views of the wetlands.
Sharon has been going out to Cattail Marsh and to other areas of Tyrrell Park for years to enjoy the outdoors but it wasn’t until recently that she started drawing out what she was seeing.
Enjoy Nature with Journaling
“I looked up video workshops from Jack Muir Laws, an artist and naturalist out of California,” explains Sharon. “He teaches the basics of nature journaling and how to get started.”
Sharon spends relaxing afternoons sketching out beautiful drawings of birds, flowers, trees and even a gator or two. She says if you go by the simple system created by Laws, anyone can draw. I told her I would probably get overwhelmed looking out onto the marsh with all of the options of what to draw. I asked, “How do you even start?” Her advice was pretty simple.
“You find something that interests you and you just sit down and do it. For example, I might pick a flower. So, I draw what I observe. You have to quantify, count the number of petals, look at the details, look at the stem, the leaves and how different parts are arranged.”
When nature journaling, you are also encouraged to record your observations and thoughts on what you see.
“You write down the temperature, is it windy or calm or what the sky looks like,” explains Sharon, “you can write down the thoughts you have too. You are also encouraged to look for questions like ‘What is the function of that thing?’ and it just flows from there.”
Sharing The Love
Nature journaling is also something she has used to connect and bond with her mother-in-law (my Grandma).
“I got her some art supplies and I thought we could go journaling together. I wanted to get her into the habit because she loves to draw,” said Sharon. “This is something that she and I do. She seems to really enjoy it.”
Sharing hopes to get even more people interested in the beauty sitting right in our own backyard.
“In Beaumont we have the access to beautiful works of nature that just isn’t available in other places. There aren’t marsh lands all over. It’s not something you will find in Austin or San Antonio or in other parts of the state.”
Sharon started up a “Beaumont Nature Journal” group on Facebook. She hopes to one day hold regular meet ups and help others appreciate the outdoors in Beaumont.
Besides the new beautiful boardwalk and viewing platforms, more new construction is coming to Cattail Marsh. The Wetlands Education Center, a project in partnership with The Magnolia Garden Club, is currently in the works. The center will serve as a nature classroom. (See an artist rendering here.)
“This is a rare treat that we are able to go out and enjoy this beauty right here in Beaumont,” said Sharon, “I can’t say enough good things about it.”
Check out the “Beaumont Nature Journal” group on Facebook for updates on meet ups and other happenings.