From April 15, 1976: “As we hiked upstream, we were treated to the view of rocky landscapes and numerous rapids, interspersed with waterfalls and calm pools. We could see the high mountain nearby. Following the stream towards the base of this rocky mountain, we discovered the remains of an old log cabin. Only a few feet of the cabin walls were still standing, and the remnants of an old stove lay scattered about the area. A water bucket lay next to the lines of a beaten path, which led to the stream only 30 feet away. I found a beat-up hatchet with about half of the leather wrappings around the handle still intact.”
What you just read, plus dozens of other details not included here, are lost memories, except for the part about the hatchet. Hmmm … lost memories, but they’re being written about? Guess I’ve got some explaining to do.
Let me begin by saying that enriching your outdoor experiences, no matter what the activities are and no matter whom you share them with, will be enhanced dramatically (I absolutely, positively guarantee it) by one simple thing, something anyone can do. It won’t affect the actual moment, but will provide pleasure for decades, and even lifetimes, to come. It’s simple for anyone to do, from children to grandparents, and its value will live for generations. And what is it? Maintain a journal.
Even if you think it’s too much work to record a day’s events, it’s worth its weight in gold because the simple fact is, the great majority of each trip will very soon be lost from memory. The information might still be in your brain, but you won’t be able to access it without certain prompts. Thousands of those prompts will reside in your journal, and without them, you’re pretty much helpless. You’ll only recall the highest of the highlights. The rest will be gone.
Call it a diary if you want, and make it as detailed as you like, but the most critical point of all is to write it down within a day or so of a trip. If you don’t think the time frame is very important, try it, and then try it again on another occasion, but wait until a few days have passed. You’ll find there’s much less to write about, and that’s because many details will have faded from your mind. The fresher it is in your brain, the better your journal will be, so if at all possible, record it as soon as time allows.
Not having a journal is very much like not having family photos, which are also great for prompting recollections. As much as we all treasure photos, a journal can be every bit as valuable.
Modern technology makes it even easier. Just carry a small recorder that you can mumble a few notes into during the day. It won’t detract from the enjoyment of what you’re doing, and it will ensure a useful, accurate record of events. It’s best to later write it on paper or type and save it on a computer so that it exists somewhere in written form. More on that later.
Before I go further, here’s why a journal will be one of your most treasured possessions. Whether you review it alone, with your partner, with friends, children, or grandchildren, it will remind you of things long lost from cognizant memory, things that you’ll realize you never wanted to forget.
For example, the paragraph you read at the beginning of this piece was excerpted from my own journal entry on April 15, 1976. As I read it recently, memories came flooding back of things that had long escaped me: multiple waterfalls over rounded rocks; the joys and trials of bushwhacking; finding sets of discarded deer antlers (which I still have today); seeing bear-claw marks on the beech trees; and many more details of one of the great trips from my earlier days of hiking.
I guess I should add one more recollection: the enthusiasm of youth. The bushwhack was of Rocky Peak Ridge, following the path of a brook from near Route 73. Right now, that sounds insane enough, let alone trying it in early spring. But it was a great trip. The journal confirms it from 36 years ago.
With thousands of similar outings over decades of time, I certainly wouldn’t remember who accompanied me that day, but the journal took care of that as well.
Raising children and working multiple jobs led to gaps in my journals, which I now find truly regrettable. Much has been lost, but I assure you, the journals and trip logs I do have are among my treasures.
A journal will be key to the best parts of some family gatherings. The words “Remember that?” will fly constantly, much more than if just based on memories alone.
Your children and grandchildren will ask questions that you’ll love answering, and for any of them reading it after you’ve passed, they will know something of you through your writings. A piece of you will always be with them.
About writing it all down or saving it in computer files: in spite of all the modern, miniaturized technology for oral recordings, it’s still best to write it down. As old-fashioned as that seems, we are much more likely to make use of the written format, and sharing digital files is certainly easy enough.
I do regret not maintaining journals consistently, but those that I do have literally saved my life―or at least parts of it.