Try to Remember – Keep a Journal

I am reading Undaunted Courage  by Stephen Ambrose and the wonderful journals of the men on the Voyage of Discovery from Washington, D.C. to Oregon coast with Lewis and Clark left us amazing accounts of their journeys. Where would we be without journals?

It was ornithology class in college that made me start keeping a journal of each outing. That was great training that I used in my early years as a park naturalist. However, at some point I became too lazy to keep up the journal practice. It was all hand writing in those days and my best work was neither fascinating reading or very legible due to lazy penmanship.

The costumes are beautiful  Tibetan formal ware, but the ladies are from some other part of China, enjoing holidays at Jiuzhaigou.
The costumes are beautiful
Tibetan formal ware, but the ladies are from some other part of China, enjoing holidays at Jiuzhaigou.

But international trips revived my interest in recording every detail of a day. I wanted to be able to look back and recall the place, the people and the sense of wonder. It was twenty  years ago that my opportunities to travel internationally increased and a laptop had become my constant companion so legibility was no longer a part of the challenge. I type well at 80 words per minute or better.

In 2005 we were in China training about 30 world heritage site managers while touring on a luxury bus in northern Sichuan Province. We stopped to visit the very famous and highly popular Jiuzhaigou World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve. My journal from that first day follows:


The huge plaza at Jiuzhaigou would hold 5,000 people and needs to. That many are standing in line to get in each morning. They let 12,000 per day into the valley and the queue is a Disney model with the zigzag queues with cords between posts. This feeds into a bus boarding lane and 260 large green buses take people up valley. They can get off at any time and get back on at any point by flagging a bus. This is much like Denali and adds to the charm of the place. The valley is forked so midway up you can take one branch or the other. We went up to the right at first and it terminates at a 540 hectare old growth forest with very large trees. It’s temperate rainforest with every surface covered with mosses aned trees growing out of the tops of old stumps or broken snags as in the Olympic National Forest in Washington State.


The waterfalls and pools of this valley are varied and beautiful and the trails take you along or over the water the entire way.
The waterfalls and pools of this valley are varied and beautiful and the trails take you along or over the water the entire way.

We visit the WC (toilet) and walk up through the old growth, enjoying the scenes. At concession platforms near the bus stop you can pay ten yuan and wear a Tibetan outfit to have your picture taken. That’s very popular and takes the first 20 minutes of our visit to the valley. The trip up valley to this point is 40 kilometers between heavily wooded steep canyon walls of two to threee thousand feet. They say the taller jagged peaks of the Min Range of the Tibetan Prefecture are about 10,000 feet elevation. You can see water flowing beside the road the entire drive up. It turns out that Jiuzhaigou is one continuous waterfall from top of the valley to the bottom with intermittent lakes, roughly 40 kilometers. It’s karst topography so the gushing water is eroding the landscape into elaborate combinations of surface sinkholes and shelves with pools. The colors are amazing. The boardwalk trail zigzags the entire length of the river from top of the valley to the bottom and Visitor Center. Walking over karst pools of teal and azure teeming with trout is breathtaking. Nine Tibetan villages thrive in the valley within the park.

And it goes on and on. As a writer of fiction and interpreter of natural and cultural heritage a journal is a wonderful resource. When you want to set a fictional story where you have visited, you have background information and a large collection of digital photos as reminders (55,000 so far). When writing non-fiction such as a blog or book, you have your own observations to compare to what you find by other authors.

Thousands of Chinese visitors enjoy the park each day.
Thousands of Chinese visitors enjoy the park each day.

Journaling is a great habit. I wish I could motivate myself to do it every day everywhere, but finding the time around home is challenging. We are off to speak at a conference in Chandigarh, India, in Punjab State in early October so my large file of trip journals will get larger. One of these days there’s a book that can be fairly easily assembled from these fascinating trips – running in front of the bulls in Pamplona, watching pandas breed in Wolong Valley in Szechuan, taking a pirogue up the Chagres River in Panama, swimming with sea lions in the Galapagos Islands, watching black-maned lions up close and personal in the Serengeti and traveling on foot with the Kwitonda Group of mountain Gorillas in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. But those are other stories for other days.

If you want to remember where you have been, what you have done and people you have met, take twenty minutes or so every day and write (or type) in your journal. Add drawings if you are artistic or photos if your journal is electronic. Your journal will keep your memories alive and easily accessible, for yourself and to share with others. And who knows? Maybe one day your journal will be as famous as those of Lewis and Clark.

-Tim Merriman

Published by heartfeltassociates

Lisa Brochu and Tim Merriman are married and serve as Principals of Heartfelt Associates. They write fiction and non-fiction, raise miniature horses and consult with parks, zoos, museums, historic sites, nature centers and aquariums on heritage interpretation and visitor experiences.They live on the Big Island of Hawaii on a small Kona coffee farm overlooking Kealakekua Bay.

One thought on “Try to Remember – Keep a Journal

  1. It is great advice. I marvel when I look back at the first half of my field journal which corresponded to my earlier days as a naturalist; I look at the second half which corresponds to my more “professional” career since and marvel at all the blank pages.

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