Childhood Journaling

Back when I was about nine or ten years old, our family spent almost a month exploring Scotland in late spring. I remember my mother encouraging me and my siblings to write journals of our trip, but none of us did. And so that trip’s details are lost, though I do remember exploring the castle ruins at Loch Ness, visiting the Isle of Skye, and a professional photographer asking me and my sister to sit on a rock in the foreground of a mountain pass for what he said was the best weather he’d ever seen there—the resulting photo to be made into a postcard, so he said. We happened to have bright red and turquoise jackets on, which surely improved the photo.

We then spent the entire summer of that same year exploring Scandinavia, and this time I did write a journal, and I still have it. Perhaps the lost opportunity in Scotland prompted my mother to insist on our keeping journals for Scandinavia, and she bought us spiral notebooks to use. I believe my brother also kept a journal of the same trip, but it was not nearly as detailed as mine, and perhaps not finished. I wrote about what we did each day, tracking how many tunnels we drove through or hairpin bends we drove around in our Commer Highwayman with the license place of KTW 866J, which I still remember. I included maps on which I marked where we drove each day, and described all the tourist attractions we visited, even saving the tickets stubs for attractions like the Wasa Museum in Stockholm or the Viking Museum near Oslo. I wrote down when my mother did the laundry, and where we found a public laundromat. At every new city or village we drove into, I clamored to visit the Information Centre so I could collect dozens of brochures, sometimes in duplicate so I could cut out photos of places we visited, and also save entire brochures that I taped into the journal or added to a pocket that I created and taped onto certain pages. After we returned home, I saved all the postcards we’d sent to my grandparents, too. My dad used my journal to help him caption all the photos he took (slides), which we still have somewhere. This trip was far richer in my memory because of the journal I wrote, and I thank my mother for her foresight. My journal, too, was either a symptom or prediction of my later lifelong passion for writing.

And then the following summer we spent two or three months visiting northern Italy, the former Yugoslavia, and Greece, and I kept an entirely new journal chronicling our new exploits. I can tell you how much it cost to take a gondola ride under the Bridge of Sighs in Venice or how much a round of sodas cost the family in Piazza San Marco (I remember the waiter saying the high cost also covered “musica, musica”—a violinist serenading us all, whether we wanted it or not). I can tell you where we went snorkeling along the Adriatic, how we had to drive around Albania because it was closed to tourists, the terrible mosquitos where we camped overnight on the island of Corfu, or how much the ticket was to visit the Acropolis. I described the tunnel we explored under a temple at Delphi, and how a native boy made a bit of money selling candles to help us see in the dark. I described all the beggar boys who would swarm your vehicle at stoplights in certain Yugoslavian towns, washing your windows and then begging for cigarettes or candy—and how one boy, who did a particularly good job, asked for pencils for school. I wrote about the pinnacle-top monasteries we explored in Meteora, looking down into the steep-sided Corinth Canal, and our disappointment in running out of time and not being able to visit Istanbul, which I’d still like to visit today. I included occasional poems in these journals, but mostly I wrote prose describing what we saw in a rather literal way. I still have these journals and would love to repeat the trips, comparing then and now, how the costs differ, how the photos my dad took show various places in the past compared with how they might look today.

My journaling didn’t stop there. For years I kept a journal of each day I went skiing, starting in February of 1977 at Red Deer Canyon, identifying the ski resort, where I skied on the mountain that day, and sometimes who with, including trail maps and other details. Though I’ve been a skier all my life, at some point I stopped the journal, maybe around 1990 or 1995, though the last few entries were partial and I had at least saved trail maps—and all my lift tickets. I wish I’d at least kept up with recording all the dates and locations.

I also wrote journals of many summer trips our family took in the 1970s. My dad was a university professor at the University of Manitoba, so we had long summers off and took extended trips (with a Starcraft tent trailer at first, then later a much larger full-size trailer), starting out from Winnipeg. We had a canoe on top of the Buick Estate Wagon, and later also a small Laser sailboat. We visited the Canadian Rockies in Alberta many times, and parts of British Columbia. We took other extended trips that included Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone, Glacier National Park, Lake Tahoe, and various parts of California, including Disneyland. I regret missing another trip my family took to Florida while I had a summer job as a teenager, serving as a summer camp lifeguard. The trips I did take filled multiple journals, and they too included maps marking our routes, brochures, ticket stubs, and various other details as interpreted by a young teenager. The writing itself is pedestrian and repetitive, often naive, but the record of those places at those particular times is priceless.

When I went away to boarding school in Alberta I also kept journals of particular school years, though I know one of them just ended in the middle of the year, left unfinished, probably 1979 or 1980 (I’d have to pull them out of a box to check). Since then I haven’t kept any kind of journal or diary, though I do write haiku in dated notebooks, which serve as a sort of record of places visited, though in a very different way. In all, my journals are treasured keepsakes, records of youthful times, small monuments to travel opportunities that I had no idea, at the time, were an incredible privilege.

—5 July 2022, Sammamish, Washington

I recall that our Commer Highwayman was white like this one, but our license plate was yellow: KTW 866J. Somehow our family of six, with four preteen kids, managed to spend two entire summers in this vehicle, travelling around Scandinavia, Yugoslavia, Greece, and places in between.