I thought there is not much I can do to prepare myself for a trip to Costa Rica. For traveling experience, I am somewhat decently equipped. For knowledge on coffee and the country, on the other hand, I could learn more and more yet never have enough. Preparation can be intensive or a breeze. Once I finished the most worrisome part – returning to Vietnam in the summer to renew my F1 Visa, which would be needed for me to enter Costa Rica and coming back to the States – preparation slipped to the back of my mind. It was not until I read the syllabus of FDST 6150 that I found one knowledge gap where I can jumpstart my learning experience for this 10-day course: the keeping of a journal.

I am delighted that journal keeping is a requirement for this course. I have never kept a journal in my travels, and in my major (Food Science), the lab notebook focuses on information very different from field notes. Once I learnt of the idea, however, I find it natural and good. A journal would help me retain, filter, process, and interpret new information and sensory inputs. It is the first sourvernir that I guarantee to bring back from my trip and also likely to be the souvernir that is most long-lasting in value. Also thanks to this idea, I picked up a book that has been on my reading list for a while – Field Notes on Science & Nature (edited by Michael Canfield).

With twelve contributing authors in many different sicence branches, the book provides fascinating accounts on the construction and keeping of field notes, from the various record forms that morph depending on functions to the type of quality observation that should be put down. There are numerous inspiring stories and ideas, each with its own practical conclusion. Where can sketching compliment painting? Drawing compliment photography? Strictly listing compliment descriptive observations? How many different journals do you keep and into which one would you pen your comments on subjects other than work, if at all?

These discussions did me good. First and foremost, they make me feel extremely excited for the trip, more than I could even imagine. Secondly, I now have some thoughts on how to maximize the information I would perceive and record. If not for this book, I would never thought of pulling out my color pencils or having more than one notebook. With Costa Rica’s rainy season still going strong at the end of November, a ‘Rite in the Rain’ note sounds like a neccessity. On the other hand, the type of paper used in such note can make erasing very difficult. Thus, I decided to buy a second notebook with the aim to copy and rearrange my field note at the end of the day, as well as to comment, hypothesize, and make better drawings. I do not doubt that I will have many good memories with the experiences and people I would encounter during the trip, but I hope a somewhat methodical observing and note-taking approach will help me see and understand even more. There is really no telling how well this will work until the trip starts (this thought fuel my excitement everyday), but I hope it will deliver, and that I will have something to report on this blog soon!

Meanwhile, if you are interested, “Field Notes on Science & Nature” is available in hard-copy at the UGA Science Library. It is an eye-opening, wonderfully executed book, suitable for anyone interested in travelling, observing, or any creative endeavor. I promise to return it soon, so please pick it up!