Writing Personal Field Notes at Land Trust Preserves

Aug 21, 2014
Read about the creative process of local writer, Katie Eberhart, as finds inspiration in the sights, smells, and sounds of nature.

by Katie Eberhart

What writer hasn’t thought about going on an expedition for the adventure and discovery, and for inspiration. Should such an opportunity come your way, how will you decide what to write? Which details will you choose to record?

A writer’s field notes might be a list of words, short phrases, paragraphs, a story, or a poem. Field notes may also include ideas, questions, names and labels, memories, and even maps and sketches.

Begin by writing a single detail—one plant or flower, a tree or bird, stone or fragment of rough pine bark. Then, stretch your senses beyond the visual to notice, and write, what you smell, hear, and see: a lizard skedaddles under a log or cloud-shadows cruise across a meadow.

A writer’s field notes may fill a single page or a whole journal. I begin by jotting the date and location. Invariably, I mention the weather. My notes ripple outward, like the undulations from a pebble tossed into a placid lake. I find myself asking questions like how was the land formed? Who has lived here? What has changed? How will this place look in winter? How might it look in ten years?

The “field” (mountains or deserts, rivers or lakes) is a source of experience that when written—along with ideas and questions—can prove fruitful for future stories or memoirs, essays, or poems. I have discovered poems threaded through notes I wrote while tromping around eastern Oregon, and before that in Alaska, and in other more distant places.

Another time, after going on Land Trust bird walk at Indian Ford Meadow Preserve, I wrote a short essay, gathering details from my field notes:

"A song sparrow, perched on a silvery and quite dead willow branch, tipped his head back and opened his beak, singing a melody that gives credence to the name “song” sparrow. Red-winged blackbirds trilled and a trio of mallards circled and settled into another channel. We spun around, another sort of flock, to look toward the edge of the forest where, on a high branch, a dark-colored bird perched. “Brown-headed cowbird,” someone said. Brightly backlit, I saw only the silhouette of a plump bird. Our guide described the cowbird as having a dark brown head, dark eye, dark beak, and a chunkier body than a blackbird. The brown-headed cowbird flew and we turned our attention back to the brushy swale where the tallest willow branches—dead and leafless—are said to be a perch favored by hummingbirds."

When venturing out into a Land Trust Preserve, a late-summer outing offers a different experience than a spring bird walk, but the land always presents intriguing writing opportunities. See how on my August 2014, Field Notes Writing Workshop at Indian Ford Meadow Preserve. We’ll take a short amble with stops to observe and listen, smell and touch, and then have time to write and consider our passage through place and time.