I like to use hardbound sketchpads for notes and keep one handy when I walk or drive. I often walk with the sketchpad in hand, making notes with my steps, although when I want both hands free or simply want the wind to blow thought-free through my head I stuff the sketchpad in a pocket or drop it in my pack. When I come indoors, the sketchpad and my glasses go together on the writing table.
Quite a pile of these 4 X 6 inch sketchpads has accumulated since I began using them in the early 1990s. I return frequently to recent and even older sketchpads to check the rough, original notes that I made on a place or find what series of photographs were taken. They have an odd short hand of numbers—such as ‘48.1 junct. 50/6’ or ‘52.5 24/72 in Loa’—because I note mileages of intersections as I drive to reconstruct the localities where I have collected plants, which also get numbers, most recently 4395, 4396, 4397. The plant numbers also get other notes like ‘banner pinkish with purple veins; keels white suffused at tip with lavender.’ When the heat on Tuesday had brought out the resinous fragrance of aromatic compounds in the new leaves of composites, I began checking plants to find the source—it was a sagebrush relative that had soft, pinnately lobed leaves, shaped, I noted when I had found the source, ‘like those of an acanthus capital—although lobes and rachis thinner.’ I meant like the acanthus leaves on the capital of a Corinthian column, but the original was enough to keep the memory.
Through a season the sketchpads begin to erode and wear like the landscape. I especially like the one I’ve just finished. That paper that has curled where the binding has been lost reminds me of the way soil curls in the bed of a vernal pool after it has baked in the summer sun or, maybe, a scrub oak’s leaf held still on a branch in the middle of winter.