Thursday, 11 June 2020

So why carry on?

I first committed my birding observations to a notebook back in the summer of 1974. They were no more than a short list of the birds that I had seen in the garden, carefully scribed in biro, my handwriting as neat as I could manage. By the start of 1975 the notebook had grown in size and was joined by a 'page per day' diary, on which a narrative appeared. This model stayed in place until 1980, when the diaries were dropped and the notebook entries took on the form of lengthy essays, full of flowery writing, bird descriptions, expressions of emotion and what I considered to be noteworthy observations. The notebooks - all smart, hard-backed affairs - remained until 2000, when handwritten accounts gave way to the computer and the printed page. What new technology also allowed was photographs to be inserted into my prose, and these pages became colourful and vibrant reminders of my time in the field, and were held together in a giant ring-binder. It was not until 2013 that I reverted back to the handwritten ways of old, in an attempt to get a bit of an organic feeling back into the process. Since then I've bumped along writing up my nature notes with a tiredness and a lack of enthusiasm that I am now questioning. The writing abridged, messy at times, a bit of a chore.

So why carry on doing it?

Before anybody thinks that my 46 years worth of unbroken note taking is about to cease, that is not going to happen. I am just assessing how I go about it, and ways in which I can get some sort of feeling back into the process. Writing a blog does take away some of the freshness of the notebook, as posting on here often negates the need to express myself fully on paper. In fact, after the Hawfinch irruption of 2017-18, my notebook was just a list of counts whereas the blog posts were full of living, excitable memories. I have printed these posts out and they stand alone as a 'publication' - you can find it to download under the 'Hawfinch corner' tab above if you wish. My notebooks have acted as a warm and friendly place to go, to bathe in the past, to relive great days as much as to be able to look up counts and dates. These last seven years has seen a gradual chipping away at that resource - the blog serves that purpose far more than the notebook does. I barely look at the recent ones.

I do keep my records in other places. They appear as lists for locations, highest counts, earliest and latest dates, etc. If the notebooks ceased to be, the information would still survive in these places, plus the more notable of them uploaded onto BirdTrack and Trektellen. But the notebook is a personal connection to what I have seen, not cold data uploaded onto a website. A notebook calls for thought, choice of words, care.

I have no answers at the moment, although I do need to address this situation. I have even considered buying an expensive, large leather-bound book (not unlike an illuminated bible of old), to transfer and write up all of the best days that I have experienced so far, a way of committing these glorious experiences to a special place away from the eroding memory banks. In the meantime I will carry on lethargically jotting down a few brief counts underneath the date line and weather details until I come up with a solution.


Ric said...

Steve, I've kept notes, references and one liners of one sort or another for all sorts of activities since 1975. I still have them. They sit there gathering dust as their contents become ever more meaningless.
Their function as a learning process is done. Their purpose to document history is almost irrelevant. No one will ever read them except as a quick glance before throwing them into a skip once I'm gone. Shame, but that's their future.

Paul Trodd said...

Hi Steve, funny you broached this subject, but only last week I was pontificating over a similar conundrum in our old study where two shelves of a large bookcase are loaded down with my old bird logs dating back to 1967! It was good to pull out a few at random and delve back into the past, but who indeed is going to want them when I`m gone? All the relevant records have been passed to county recorders over the years, so that historical angle is covered, and I cant see the worth in forwarding them onto somewhere such as the Edward Grey library at Oxford or Tring Museum, even if they wanted them. So, there they stand, gathering dust and mildew, awaiting their fate; as Ric says, probably in the skip. Its a bit sad really, so if you do come up with a solution I`ll pleased to hear it! All the best, and hope to see you down here at Dunge this autumn, Paul.

Gavin Haig said...

Well, some people do turn their journals, diaries etc into fascinating single-volume books. A project to consider perhaps?

Steve Gale said...

Ric - sadly, you speak much truth

Paul - a day trip to Dungeness is months away I’m afraid

Gav - tell me more...

Stewart said...

Steve for years I have hunted for a large bound book like the old one that was in the George at Cley back in the day but cannot find one anywhere. Have you any ideas where to get one?

Fleetwood Bird Observatory said...

Hello Steve, I agree with everything you say and have a similar dilemma re my old notebooks. However, I do view my notebook as a tool as essential as my optics! In fact if I was going out in to the field, I would rather forget my optics than my notebook. Of course I'd rather not be without either!

I view my notebook as the instrument that records my sightings and then carries them to my blog, Birdtrack, Trektellen etc. I wouldn't be without it. But I suppose when tbey have done all that, they are redundant, but they have served a purpose, and to me an important purpose.

I also get buge pleasure from looking at old editions, and even recent notebooks will become old in time and have nostalgia value.

What will happen to them when I 'm gone I'm not sure. I am involved with the records centre here in Lancs and we do get volunteers to enter the sightings from Naturalists wbo haved passed away, particularly if there is a long data set.

Cheers, Seumus

Steve Gale said...

Stewart - if I find one I’ll let you know.

Seamus - I have a small field notebook that I then transfer into a large ‘posh’ version. It is the latter that I am fretting about. These contain long-handed notes, narrative, thoughts, embellishments etc. I used to enjoy writing them up, but not so much now, but it seems a shame to just stop. Hence my deliberating!

Mark Bravery said...

Note-taking and record-keeping is very personal. Each of us will have his or her own chosen methods. The modern-day challenge is deciding what information is worth sharing and how best to do that.