A Trail Through Leaves: The Journal as a Path to Place

Hannah Hinchman

Published by W. W. Norton & Company, 1997
ISBN 10: 0393041018 / ISBN 13: 9780393041019
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Synopsis: To Wyoming artist-writer-naturalist Hannah Hinchman, the blank pages of a journal are a clarion call to awaken the soul, to celebrate being alive in the world, to get to know both the wilderness of our inmost selves and the "unpredictable and potent" natural world. Hinchman's respect for the miracle of our five senses, and her passion for what they can tell us ahout the world, is contagious. "Start with a smell, like a crushed marigold leaf, the sea, coal smoke, " she advises the would-be journal-keeper, and from such raw materials begin to "decant the stuff of life" into journal form, "where it remains fresh, still tasting of its source." Writing and drawing in a journal, she abundantly proves, is one way to live more fully in the present, and discover what in the world one wants to make one's own; for ultimately, "the act of recording a life ...is also the act of creating a life."

From the Author: How do you find the time to keep a journal?

At first it's hard to justify the time for such an apparently selfish activity. But the rewards are tangible. They tend to reflect back into daily life, adding a level of clarity and attention that affects everything from negotiating traffic to family conversation. The act of recording, even noting things to record later, amplifies wakefulness and curiosity, counteracts irritation and boredom, invites engagement, and begets energy. The act of recording fulfills a hunger, and the feeling of satisfaction it brings makes me want to do more of it. So I find the time. I decided early on that I wouldn't make the journal into a daily regime; otherwise it might become a duty. Sometimes I open it several times a day, sometimes not for a week. But now it's become a well-established habit, an immensely rewarding one I'd never want to forgo.

My first book (though it assumed that any journal-keeper would also be a lover of the woods and fields) emphasized the interior changes wrought by making a record of one's life. A whole life, with its dark turns and its apparently dull stretches. In it I attempted to make new converts to the joys of joining art and writing on blank pages, pointing towards the increase in "wakefulness" that is one of its chief rewards.

In this second book, I've allowed the scientist and naturalist a freer rein, and that seems to go well with my somewhat more mature point of view: I write less about interior shifts, and more about what's right in front of me, knowing better how well they mirror each other. I invite creatures, plants, objects, clouds, landscapes, and people into the pages in the form of words and pictures. Those moments of focused attention have an almost magical effect; they seem to coax out of concealment details, quirks, gestures that would remain hidden to the cursory glance.

When I teach workshops on the illuminated journal, I explain what I call a "scale of journals": On one end is the Informational journal, the true naturalist's field journal. It concentrates on the quantifiable and identifiable, gathering names, facts, and observations with an impartial thoroughness. It contains drawings, but they are meant to be explanatory. There is little room for the personal in this kind of journal, though I admire it for the valuable role it serves in adding to the body of knowledge. On the other end of the scale is the Reflective journal. It's purely personal, mostly concerned with human-generated culture, investigations of the psyche, relationships, responses to art and writing, dreams, memories-as in Anaïs Nin's diaries. The self is the subject rather than the world. The art in this journal might look more like William Blake's paintings.

In between the two poles are two other kinds of journals that have become more and more central to my interest. The first is the Investigative: It documents the outer world, but includes many unmeasurable and unnamed phenomena, like the effects of light, ways the seasons change, patterns and textures in nature. It goes outside the categories of the Informational journal and finds links between apparently dissimilar things. Thus it includes more of the person making it, because it's up to that person to invent new categories. Art in this journal would look more like what we find in Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks.

The other is the Resonant journal-so called because it acts as the place of interweaving between the person and the world. Curiosity extends both inward and outward: You are a naturalist on the trail of your own life, and you search for insights in the more-than-human world as well as the human. These two kinds of journals, as embodied in Goethe and Thoreau, seem to me the richest of all. The art included in them might look like anything from Dürer to Paul Klee.

The journal has been for me both a room and a door. It's an entirely private refuge for musing, raging, and celebrating. But it's also an entry point into the larger world, a way to engage what's going on around me. A Trail Through Leaves asks you the reader to go outside first-in hopes that you will find the outside finally the most encompassing inside.

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Title: A Trail Through Leaves: The Journal as a ...
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: 1997
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: Used: Good

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