Friday, November 26, 2010

vermont field notes

"The miracles in fact are a retelling in small letters
of the very same story which is written across the whole world

in letters too large for some of us to see."

~ C.S. Lewis, Miracles, essay from God in the Dock.

New beginnings are discovered in many shapes and forms. As varied as our individual tastes can be addressed, so are we each inspired such that our souls are spoken to directly. Upon taking to the roads for long-awaited time off, I packed the usual provisions for two weeks away. Among the clothing, provisions, and reading, I added a blank notebook. A small, pocketable, single-signature memo book, appropriately commemorating my westerly destination: the State of Vermont. I’ve made two trips there, in the recent six weeks. My change of scenery from my home on the Maine coast is to sojourn to the Green Mountains of Vermont. And pristine new pages indicate travels to be engaged. There will be something to write about, something new to begin. I try remembering the wisdom of seeing the wider journey as a trusting motion, humble as it is, that advances from one beginning to another.

The action of taking to the road has its own connotations as a new beginning. Weather and surface conditions are more ingredients than detriments. The retreat begins by celebrating open roads that lead to hearts’ desires. If daily doldrums warrant writing, how much more are adventures means for documentation. I’d brought the larger journal with me which I’d been writing in since the middle of the summer, along with my typewriter. With the small Field Notes book, I began by dropping in slips of paper and jotting notes at stopping places along roads, forest trails, and the Weston Priory.

The little book began to look like something of a scrapbook, then as a kind of handbook with needed maps and itineraries. Adding it into pictures, the book resembled a passport. The working, unfinished document en route to becoming an archival document. Archival records begin with their “useful lives,” when the documents are needed in a person’s or organization’s daily operations- until the records become “noncurrent,” and thus “evidence” of that which they document. Now I see my document as artifact, and through the pages I can recall the mountains, rivers, and skies that surrounded my steps.

A gather of fresh pages provides a clean slate. New canvasses are neutral until we begin to make them our own. It is up to our creativity to discover and add meaning to the life given and its resources. Perhaps you, too, made picture albums and decorated your notebooks with stickers, back in school. We make things our own by adapting and altering materials of daily life. Look at how many motor vehicles are intriguing rolling scrapbooks. The manufactured car becomes “my car,” as a wooden table with a drawer becomes “my desk.” Then there are living, breathing places. If you live in New York, what is “your New York?” It will be distinct from the millions of others who might say, “my New York.” A great topic for your journals could be a list of what your (fill in the place name) is, in your own words through your own experience.

As for me, I would need far more than only one Maine memo book! I daresay my “Maine field notes” threads together all my journals since I began writing. But that’s no deterrent to trying. My Vermont begins with mountain roads, rolling landscape, the Long Trail, friendly towns, and pine air. Places that inspire writing. The outdoors in all seasons. Looking back sixteen years and to the present, the heart of “my” Vermont remains the Weston Priory, the Benedictine monastic community that is never far from my thoughts.

Above: I make sure to note the times of prayer at the Priory.

Below: Inadvertently, I unusually marked the location of the Priory

with an appropriate non-cartographic symbol...

If it isn’t their stewardship of their environment, or their wise and inspiring words, or the countless friends I’ve met there, it’s their melodies that accompany my steps wherever I travel in this world.

Place can transcend physical space, when it becomes our “own.” We experience the places we write about, and our recorded interactions go forth with us. When I reached Weston this recent time, I gave one of the brothers- who writes beautiful poetry- a Maine Field Notes memo book. We had a good laugh about writing in books that represent the other person’s home. Brother Augustine immediately recognized the motifs of old-fashioned agricultural notebooks, later stopping to talk about how it conveniently fits in his jacket pocket. This got us talking about how writing is integral to our work days. A great many of us do this, applying ideas from one facet of life to another. Pencils shorten in succession, as strings of words extend their trails. I completed the notebook, shortly after getting home from a second trip to Vermont- this time to help a close friend who is a college chaplain with a community event.

Winter now at our doorsteps, my little autumn chronicle is complete. The writing exercise is something I’d do again and highly recommend. Completing so compact a project, closing this small loop, has been surprisingly gratifying. I’ll remember Brother Augustine encouraging me to keep on writing, “with a good sharp pencil!” It’s all grist for the graphite mill. Indeed, the sums of our sojourns are subsumed by our inner odometers.

6 comments: said...

Love this -- wonderful photos, interesting ideas....what a great road trip. Wish I could page through the Field Notes....

Anonymous said...

Very cool post! I was wondering where you got those nice maps? Did they perhaps come with the Field Notes?

speculator said...

Thanks, Anonymous!
I taped in the maps, which I picked up during my travels. The notebook was entirely blank when bought.

Janet Schneider said...

Great post, and perfect in advance of spring trip to VT. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Great stuff!

I'd love to see a scan of the notebook now that it is "finished" (funny thing to say about an adventure, as I consider one to last forever with just different chapters within it).

speculator said...


Yes, I did fill the entire book- but didn't want to crowd this essay with too many pictures! This particular notebook represented a few weeks in various regions of Vermont.
I actually found myself using the notebook as a guidebook.