A few weeks ago, I led two writing workshops for the Deschutes Land Trust, one in the Metolius Preserve the other at Indian Ford Meadow Preserve.
These workshops provided an opportunity to write in a new place where the object was to experience as well as observe. Each participant created their own written record which may later be a source of material for poems, essays, articles, or stories and likely will also help latch that morning into memory.
Writing personal field notes, you aren’t tied by the structure and rules that a researcher or scientist must follow but you still may wish to mention the date and place, the weather, and the location.
Typed, my field notes may look like a poem but the short lines are largely due to writing by hand in a small notebook. I consider field notes as unfinished writing. It often takes weeks, months, or longer to connect my written observations with ideas that evolve into a poem or essay (usually after many revisions).
Field Notes, August 9, 2014, Metolius Preserve, Oregon
gray fissured bark
broken or torn from a pine
above my head—
I look up and hope nothing else falls
while I’m sitting here.
The stick, embedded
with ruffles of yellow lichen
crunchy—epitome of dry.
The lichen “leaves” cup fruiting bodies
like glossy brown eyeballs.
A squirrel chatters, higher-pitched and less insistent
than Lake Creek’s continuous rattle—
white noise you quickly forget.
On the stick, also intricate black lichens,
not the big-leafed ones of Alaska or Greenland,
but tiny frills like old lace.
What skill it takes to stay focused on one twig,
to pay attention without becoming distracted
by something else.
What is the value of distraction?
These pockets of scents—
near the creek but still in the pines,
beside a stump-relic, roots upturned,
twisted silver, the top burned and leaning
into the ground.
Charred black, a ghost of a former forest
leaving me to concoct the scenarios. Young
healthy, first mid-sized Ponderosa—an open forest—
unlike from my childhood when only my dad appreciated,
and mentioned, the “virgin” forests—old growth
we’d say now; but I didn’t know that then.
In the dip where I placed my chair,
a breeze waves tall bloomed-out grass stems—
rooted and at the moment
a touch or tap scatters seeds—
warm air, fragrant with oily scent of pine (forest)
and insects—flies buzzing and grasshopper wings clattering
solid memories like the smell of roses
that brings forth that parallel universe of youth.
I lean my hand against a pine trunk
only a few inches across but already flaking,
a puzzle with tiny bits of yellow and black lichen.
For a few minutes, the rough imprint remains
in my skin, a temporary tattoo—
invisible as memories.
Part 2 of Field Notes will be “Strategies & Prompts”; Part 3 will be “Indian Ford Meadow Preserve.”
On another topic, my poem How Tiny The Grass Seeds is in Elohi Gadugi Journal, Summer 2014 — Sticks & Stones. Even visiting a museum, jotting notes or “field notes” may prove helpful later, when composing a poem.