Snowshoeing Education 106: Snowshoe Journaling

“This was real adventure, snowshoeing into deep winter. And I was relieved that I was getting along so well on my snowshoes. I had read of agonizing cramps from them. But Bill said that was from walking too tensely. So when I grew tired, I walked with an extreme loppiness, and that rested me.”

On December 21, 1944, Florence Page Jaques wrote this journal excerpt in her book Snowshoe Country. This wonderful book takes the reader on a journey by a married couple that spent a winter in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota back in the middle of the twentieth century. The entire book is written in a journal format and tells a peaceful adventure story.

Journaling is not usually published work. Most often it is a personal and private record. As an avid snowshoer, I document my snowshoe adventures in a hardbound journal. I find journaling to be an opportunity for creative expression. I often write in a story format and will on occasion add in some poetic flair. It is also information for future reference and reflection. I will consult my journal when planning future hikes and trips, and I often enjoy reminiscing when looking back on past adventures.

And I find journaling to be a record for any interested future readers. My father gave me his journal stories from World War II air combat and prisoner of war experiences, a personal treasure that will go down in our family archives for generations. Grant that my snowshoe adventures do not compare with my father’s heroic stories, but they may be of interest someday to my grandchildren with whom I snowshoe.

The assignment of keeping a journal is a component to my college snowshoeing and backpacking courses. I encourage my students to keep journals, not only to excite them about recording their outdoor adventures, but also to help enhance their observational writing skills.

Journaling can be an enriching activity for people at any age. Introducing children to outdoor journaling at an early age teaches them valuable skills. Learning to observe and record nature and outdoor events in a journal starts kids on a life-long activity of documenting information. It is a skill they can take with them into adult life. Imagine reading excerpts from your childhood journal about a snowshoeing adventure you and your family made to an exciting park many years ago. Those memories become a treasure.

Keeping a journal often includes recording specific data and observations, documenting accounts of an activity or event, or writing descriptive thoughts, feelings and ideas in a story, poetry or song. If you like symmetry, a journal can be consistent and patterned. An example would be to record the date, location, weather and temperature consistently for each entry. For an asymmetrical approach, go for the more carefree style of creative writing with a surprise on each page.

Writing however is not the only approach. Keeping a journal can be more than written expression. Alternative or combined ideas for journaling can include using sketches, making a scrapbook of memorabilia or artifacts, and organizing a photo album, tray of slides, or presentation of your adventures.

Whatever your approach to journaling, it all begins with developing a keen sense of awareness to the outdoor world around you. Add to that having good observation skills, selecting a methodology of recording, and systematically or creatively expressing yourself, and you can be a successful journalist.

I tend to reference specific details in my journals. I often include descriptions of location, landscape, views, weather, wildlife and natural observations, as well as interesting events or exciting adventures. For my snowshoeing entries, I often include information about the snow, trails and the specific snowshoes I am using on a given outing.

Keeping a Nature Journal by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth is a good reference on journaling. The authors define nature journaling as, “the regular recording of observations, perception and feelings about the natural world around you.” This book offers the basics to developing a journal, and goes beyond written expression by emphasizing the value of journal sketching. After combining the basics with sketching, they take the reader journaling through the four seasons in a unique and creative way.

Even when the snow season has come to an end, you can continue journaling your spring, summer and fall outdoor adventures, warming up your pen for next season’s snowshoeing entries. Year round journaling will prompt you to get outside more, not only to enjoy the fresh air and seek adventure, but to also help bulk up your journal.

In an episode of public radio’s Prairie Home Companion, storyteller Garrison Keillor explained why many people pursue exciting outdoor adventures. He said the reason is so they have a good story to tell. I recommend you record those adventures so you will not forget to tell the details of your stories.

During a winter camping and snowshoeing adventure in the Sylvania Wilderness Area of Upper Michigan I wrote in my journal, “I set up my tent near a tall hemlock and among some other smaller trees. I made a path in the snow that went to our kitchen area, made up of a pan for a pan fire and my single burner stove. After piling about a foot of snow around my tent, I planted my Northern Lites snowshoes upright in the bank. It looked pretty inviting.”

Later that night after a small campfire and supper, “I returned to the golden coals of my pan fire to catch the last rays of heat before crawling into my winter shelter. Changing into all dry clothes, I crawled into my cozy sleeping bag and listened to the voices of students at a distant campsite until falling fast asleep.” This was the end to a perfect night and to a perfect winter camping story.