a notebook goes north again
January 21, 2010
I am back in the Yukon, travelling north.
For the next six weeks, I’ll be in Whitehorse, Dawson City, Old Crow, Inuvik, Norman Wells and Yellowknife, looking for stories and writing them, too.
I’m travelling light ~ just one little suitcase; a laptop computer named Ma’am, [she grumbles when people call her Mac]; a digital audio recorder; and a favourite notebook that goes everywhere with me.
My friend Kirby gave me the notebook just before I left Edmonton last September. By now it’s full of scribbled interview notes; story leads; long lists of photo possibilities from two different archives; phone numbers and email addresses; a mini-dictionary of the seasons and animals in the Tlingit and Han languages; and a thousand questions for northerners I haven’t met yet. I’ve glued two fold-out indexes to the inside of the back and front covers so that I can find everything.
Hoping the notebook will last a little longer, I’ve even started to write in tiny script.
As I travel through the Yukon and Northwest Territories, I never worry about January weather, or winter flying conditions, or whether I’ll find a place to stay in the next town, or whether I’ll finish the book in time for my deadline. Never. I only worry about losing my green notebook.
Like everyone else in the world, I take notes on my laptop, too, and file cold facts into little, blue folders on my desktop. I am an obedient citizen of the digital universe although I often curse the wizards who invented Microsoft Word. With a minimum of tapping on the keyboard, I recently found cool new software that creates digital notebooks; and no, this is not an ad, but if you want to take a look, here’s a link to Thoughts. Two Austrian web designers created these notebooks to look like real books on a shelf, but you can search the contents and organize research notes in interesting ways. The program is a godsend for researchers and writers who once had to sift through stacks of scrap paper as high as Mount Logan to find the middle initial of the thirteenth mountain climber to climb Mount Logan. That kind of research work was exasperating. I am not nostalgic for the era before laptops.
Did you hear that, Ma’am? I mean it.
So why do I carry my green notebook? After all it has no search function, no alphabetized index, no font choices. I can’t erase pages with a simple click, and I can’t even read my handwriting half the time. Paper notebooks are becoming as obsolete as Underwood typewriter ribbons, and yet they have redeeming qualities. Like this one . . .
I can touch it. I can scribble little maps of Tuktoyaktuk in it. When I’m bored, or lonesome, I can doodle blue triangles in it. I can write notes to myself in it that will never find their way into proper books or fact-filled digital files: for instance, a recipe for candied oranges from Tiss in Dawson City, page 82; The List of Odd Bumper Stickers On Northern Pickup Trucks [ Eat Moose, 8,296 wolves can’t be wrong ]; The List of Unusual Signs Outside Northern Restaurants, [ Road Kill Cafe. You kill it, we grill it. ] The list of northern animals I’ve seen so far. [Two grizzlies; seven black bears; two porcupine, waddling; two moose, swimming; one bull moose, dining; a herd of buffalo sitting on the road between Toad River and Liard River Hot Springs; first four caribou . . .]
The green notebook is never intrusive. When I’m sitting with a northerner at a kitchen table, especially a shy person, I don’t want to type his spoken words into my laptop as he speaks. With a tiny audio recorder beside my elbow, I can take out my notebook, and silently bring his ideas to paper.
The speaker feels free to talk. The listener is so busy writing, writing, writing words, with her head down, that she doesn’t interrupt the flow of the story, except for very short questions.
I keep my notebook because it inspires me to listen, to ask one more question, to explore the vast northern places that can fill an open page.