My left hand held a small leather bound book open across my knees as my pencil transcribed thoughts in fuzzy grey marks. Rustle, rustle, rustle. The pencil spoke to the paper as it skipped along. Not having much choice, the paper agreed to the pencil’s rhetoric. The paper, off-white and lined, fluttered in the breeze. My left hand clamped it down so the pencil could finish a word. I sat on a sun-warmed, charcoal grey, lichen spotted rock on a steep hillside. The hillside was dotted with juniper trees. Bluebirds flitted amongst them. Late afternoon sunlight slanted through the trees and stretched their shadow-images long across the grasses that covered the earth. As I did as often as I could, I was out for a hike on this spring day. I had encountered this rock, about knee high and a rounded square-ish shape, with a hollow in its top. Perfect to sit on and look out across the central Oregon landscape and down the steep hillside I had just climbed. Once I settled on the rock, I pulled my hiking journal from the small leather bag with the leather tassel on its hasp that I carried slung over one shoulder, and began to write.
Though not much bigger than a deck of cards, the journal felt companionable in my hands. After all, it was a book. Books have been an inseparable part of my life for as long as I can remember. My younger sister, Christy, and I always had books from the time we were big enough to hold one, I imagine. We looked at them, held them and fell asleep at night with them. We had grown up on a remote cattle ranch in north central Montana and never did have TV. So books filled our lives. Mom and Dad read to us frequently. We loved the stories of The Little Red Hen, shivered at the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood, and shrieked in fear when Bambi was chased by the hunters. Mom’s mother, sisters and brother, book lovers too, sent us books from time to time. One of my favorites, My Fierce Tiger, I still have today. It’s nestled safely with other childhood books back where I grew up, with Mom & Dad. Someday I will retrieve it and others, to sit on one of my bookshelves in the section reserved for books from my younger years.
As I tuned a page in the little journal, I paused the pencil. I thought of the dozens of blank books I had to write in. Many of them were unpacked from a recent move, and rested in their own portion of my bookshelves. Beings I was a bookworm, blank books drew me, too. Just like books with words in them, I found that not just any blank book appealed to me. They were for writing and sketching, putting words and images down on their waiting pages. How I felt about them was important. How they felt to me was important. About ten years ago, in my 40’s, I had begun to write more, something I had always wanted to do. This was when I began to accumulate blank books.
Oddly, my writing formed and flowed differently on different colors and kinds of paper, and in different sorts of books. My most unfavorite: blue ink on white, spiral bound notebooks, like those used in school. It’s not the memory of school, but just that stark whiteness and blue ink seems insipid besides the black ink. Black ink is inky. Black draws the eye and says something. Perhaps it is because in being black, which is the absence of all color, you build your own foundation in words with no suggestion to influence them. They begin from nothing and form their own meaning. My favorite papers to write on are thick, handmade-like papers, with bits of leaves and flowers in them and ragged edges and texture. Moving my black pen across this paper is like walking across the land. There’s movement. There’s terrain. The texture in the paper is to my pen what hills and valleys are to my body. Movement causes thoughts to flow.
I like writing on off-white paper or parchment-like paper. Recently, I have discovered I delight in writing on colored paper. Like green, coral, purple, dark cream, apricot. And thick brown card stock, the color of paper shopping bags. Along with the colored paper, which I get in reams and is loose, I found I adore writing on unbound paper. It is free. I can fan the pages out and see what and how much I’ve written. I can shuffle through the pages easily and flip them around. I can turn the pages sideways to write along the edges when words are in furious flow and I do not want to take the end of my pen from the page long enough to turn it over. I turn and burn. The page spins under my hand and my pen flies along for the ride.
Spiral bound notebooks irritate me. I hate it when my hand runs into the spiral as I write. It’s constricting. The stopping of my hand is a stutter in the flow of words down my arm from my mind. When given the choice, I avoid writing on white. I don’t like white interiors in my houses, either.
A few of my blank books are leather bound. Some of these are closed with thongs or string. This gives an ancient feel which I love. Some have images of horses on them, others flowers, leaves and birds. Some are fabric covered. There are winged horses and mystical women. Several have Celtic knot work or inspired images. I am drawn and intrigued by Celtic knot work. Almost as much as horses, which is saying something. Most of the blank books have a ribbon attached to use as a marker. Sometimes I use it, other times it hangs in random places. They are in all sizes. Small like the one I carry when I hike. The sizes range from there to textbook size. There are ones I write sayings in that I read and want to remember. There are ones I’ve written notes in as I’ve learned about horsemanship throughout my life. There is one, almost full, of free-writes from my writing mentor, Molly. There are longer quotes from books I’ve read. A thin journal resides in my purse. It’s full of random words and phrases that strike me and I write them down before I forget. There’s phone numbers, directions to places, lists, books I see and want to remember to get. Sketches. I do not “journal”, but if I did, the one in my purse is the closest thing to it. And there are the beginnings of essays in several of the blank books. I like to begin my essays with pen and paper, then move to the laptop at some point. I do not always finish them in the journal before moving to the laptop, but sometimes I do.
I like the idea, the action, of choosing words from a cloud of images and random marks. Straight lines and curves of words broken apart that swirl and swarm somewhere above my head. Capturing them. Assembling them. Allowing their mark to be visible on a page. Bring their individual meanings and images together into a coherence. But in the end, allowing the shadow of the formed words to rise again, and to break apart, for seed.