The art of taking notes

I've been keeping notes since 1974. A field notebook as a starting point, then the days counts, highlights and descriptions being transferred into a 'posh' hard-backed volume. Or computerised. I've switched between using the computer (soulless) to paper (organic) a few times, but ease and laziness has dictated that, for the moment, the keyboard and screen wins.

My enthusiasm of youth spawned rambling narrative over several pages. My impatient middle-age can turn a day into a list of names and numbers. Most unsatisfactory. I've even considered giving up taking notes - but this knee-jerk reaction has been kept at bay so far. After all, I don't want to lose my 40 years of consecutive record, even if, when I die, it is all consigned to a skip.

But I am still questioning what I write (or type) and why I do it. The internet has made the sending in of information much easier. I no longer refer to my notes at the end of a given year to collate the records to send to a recorder. That is done via the immediacy of various websites and forums. So, what do I want to get out of note taking - of writing? Increasingly I am finding the need to be creative with the accumulated experience.

Nature writing at its best is inspiring. At its worst it is cringeworthy. Can I assemble experience, thought and imagination to turn a day in the field into something far more rewarding than a list? And who would that be written for?

I have always produced written accounts of holidays and longer field trips that are as much narrative as they are an account of what has been seen. I have enjoyed doing so. Now I would like to bring this approach to my 'bread and butter' time in the field. It's not just about what I see, but about my state of mind. It's about sharing thoughts, even if those thoughts will only be shared by a future family member who might stumble across such writing in years to come (if it isn't all lost in the skip), or a handful of people looking at a blog. That doesn't really matter, as the act of creating something from such material is as much of a pleasure as being out in the field itself. It's also an act of thanks, a way of celebrating what's been put before me.

I cannot fail but to be inspired by the writings of Roger Deakin, Richard Mabey and Robert Macfarlane; the landscape art of Eric Ravelious, Paul Nash and David Hockney. To try and emulate these people would be pointless, but that isn't why you would set out to create something from a dry set of numbers gleaned from a landscape that you have scanned with binoculars.

This is still work in progress. I have a few ideas and, for the time being, the notebook and pen still comes out with me. But for how long?


Stewart said…
Now then, this is my topic! I cannot, try as I may, get a format I am comfortable with. Nothing ever seems right. I'm months behind on writing up neat because I'm just not happy with it. So far I think the large Moleskine is just right, but I have a fantasy about one of those giant old oil patterned edge, leather bound volumes / ledgers that Scrooge used. Like the one in the George at Cley...I'd love that...but.....

I take notes with a 500mm lens. It gets me into trouble.
Steve Gale said…
I'm with you here Stewart - a lifetime of notes compiled as an illuminated Bible of old. Bede the birder!
Steve Gale said…
Jono, a miscalculation possibly. A crime, hardly. All blown out of proportion if you ask me. I admire your reaction to it all.

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