Monday, December 10, 2012

Lawrence Gooley On Keeping A Journal

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.

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Lawrence Gooley, of Clinton County, is an award-winning author who has hiked, bushwhacked, climbed, bicycled, explored, and canoed in the Adirondack Mountains for 45 years. With a lifetime love of research, writing, and history, he has authored 22 books and more than 200 articles on the region's past, and in 2009 organized the North Country Authors in the Plattsburgh area.

His book Oliver’s War: An Adirondack Rebel Battles the Rockefeller Fortune won the Adirondack Literary Award for Best Book of Nonfiction in 2008. Another title, Terror in the Adirondacks: The True Story of Serial Killer Robert F. Garrow, was a regional best-seller for four years running.

With his partner, Jill Jones, Gooley founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004, which has published 83 titles to date. They also offer editing/proofreading services, web design, and a range of PowerPoint presentations based on Gooley's books.

Bloated Toe’s unusual business model was featured in Publishers Weekly in April 2011. The company also operates an online store to support the work of other regional folks. The North Country Store features more than 100 book titles and 60 CDs and DVDs, along with a variety of other area products.

4 Responses

  1. Bill Ott says:

    Mr. L. P. Gooley,
    Talk about hitting home. I bring up the Almanack and there is your book, just like the one I use now. I started in ’94 with pocket sized notebooks, which are some of my most valuable possessions. Trips I took before I started writing are mostly gone from memory. So much I could say here, but I will relate only one story. This fall I wanted to revisit the sites of two airplane wrecks I had visited. Dan Crane had brought the subject up in one of his articles. I would not have been able to find them without my notes, which I had not read since I wrote them. Searching for the planes in the notes brought back so many memories that searching the notes was almost as thrilling as finding the planes. I have so few notes before 1994. So many lost memories.

    Bill Ott
    Lakewood, Ohio

    • Larry says:

      Same here about lost memories, especially from the 1970s and 80s, so I’m glad to have at least some. I also recorded notes from many trips of the past two decades. I’m anxious to dig in to those and see what memories are sparked.

  2. Bob Meyer says:

    Yes! I know exactly where you were because I did that same bushwhack in the early 70’s, but in the Fall… Cabin ruins & all… but not the hatchet. 🙂
    What memories.
    Now, to find the old Kodachromes…

    • Larry says:

      That’s amazing! I doubt many people have visited that site. What a cool place for a cabin.

      I DO remember a tough bushwhack that day … getting whipped by lots of branches, getting pretty wet, and after all that, completing the long struggle to the peak. Years later, I climbed it by the trail … not the same experience at all, but what a difference!

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