Words


I’ve been an avid writer for as long as I can remember. As a child I would make up stories and write them as neatly as possible on sheets of lined paper. If I were feeling particularly grand I would get hold of a small notebook and try to fill it up as if I were creating a novel. At school I loved nothing better than to be in my English class with an essay assignment.

When birding came along (aged 15) I was able to transfer this wordsmithery to notebooks in which I recorded the observations I had made, in both a diary and a ‘posh’ notebook, which would expand the sightings into a narrative. These were written, by pen, in neat hand. To re-read them now is both entertaining and cringing - they can come across as pompous, with my writing obviously geared not for my eyes but those of an imagined reader. Some verged on rambling saga and flowery narrative. They always mentioned numbers.

As the 1980s progressed, the birds started to share the space with moths and butterflies, and plants began to get a mention before the end of the 90s. And slowly, almost imperceptibly, the wording was pruned back, the descriptive writing reigned in and the handwriting not given the care that was once lavished upon it. There was a brief flirtation with computer generated notebooks, pages printed out and bound together, but I was never happy with this, it lacked warmth and feeling. Not organic.

And now I find myself, if not at a crossroads, then certainly at a point where I am questioning my loyalty to the medium. I have no intention of getting rid of my 46 years worth of notebooks - in some ways they define me, particularly those from the 70s. I now find writing up my observations a bit of a chore, so am wondering why I still bother. BirdTrack, as worthy as it is, is updated with a huff. But it is not the writing that is the problem...

I have several ‘projects’ on the go: this blog still gives me pleasure and there are lists and databases that I collate with gusto. At times I have been inspired enough to write papers and articles on particular events. Maybe these ‘extra’ items are rendering the ‘old way’ of doing things - how I commit my observations to paper/computer - obsolete. But I cannot stop. The thought of breaking the unbroken run of notebooks is too sad to contemplate. My written up notes may not be the grand productions of the past, but truthfully communicate how things are today in the natural world - not once what they were.

Comments

Dylan Wrathall said…
If only I had the intelligence to understand the gifts that were on offer, reading and writing, then my school days might have been more enjoyable? The written word seems to be a dying art in an era of modern txt speak m8. It's further demonstration of dumbing down the fundamental life skills which were deemed essential during our learning years.
Of course you have to keep hold of those diaries, but who will read them when you're no longer drawing breathe?
I also remain committed to the written word, records of birds, fish, moths and mammals going right back to the early 1970's. Do they matter? To me they do and that's all the justification required to continue with this outdated mode of record keeping.
All the best - Dyl
Stewart said…
Dont do it Steve! You must keep that up even if you discard something else to make time. those handwritten books are a direct link to your past and evolution...I have books going back to the mid 80s but wish they were as neat as yours. I am currently contemplating going down the big book /fountain pen combo again!
Stewart said…
Well said Dyl...
Steve Gale said…
Dyl and Stewart - I’m not stopping, just having a look around and stock taking...
Tim Saunders said…
Steve, we love it that you are not of this present age, and appreciate your joy in words and living things. I've just re-read Gilbert White for the first time in 35 years. Entrancing. And back to an age which even predates us.
Steve Gale said…
Thanks Tim. And I love your last line!
David said…
Like you, Steve, I kept illustrated notes in hardbacked diaries for years and years: I allowed myself to be seduced by technology and started a blog in 2012. I really wish I'd kept both going: in 100 years time the books will still be here, but the blog won't!
Steve Gale said…
John, if anything deserves to survive it is, without doubt, your old notes. Cherish them.

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