“I did not hesitate to cross the stile when I found myself in a large fern clearing, the spot I stood on was high ground…”
This is the last clear line of an entry from Sarah Harris’s notebook, as she describes getting lost in the forest. The next page is filled with cross-writing, the writing being written one way, the page being turned, and the writer continuing writing on top. The transcription of this page is still in progress, resulting in a slow-burn mystery as we figure out Sarah’s adventure fragment by fragment.
When I started working on the incomplete transcription, I worked from my computer screen. Zooming in to stare at a word as big as I could make it and zooming out to see if a possibility still looked correct at a distance. It was a surprise and delight when I got to see Sarah’s notebook in person, I hadn’t realised that we had the physical copy, and it suddenly seemed almost overwhelmingly tangible. It was a completely different experience to viewing it on a screen; the pencil writing seemed smaller, the paper felt fragile, and the many empty pages made me feel acutely that ‘what if’ Sarah could have started her story even one page earlier in the notebook.
Looking at the page in person made some things immediately clearer as the distinction between the layers of writing was easier to gauge. My previously confident interpretation of the word ‘England’ in the phrase “& the field was a garden as England of memory” was suddenly and obviously not that word. ‘Eden of memory’ was a more plausible option. The fragment “native disappear […] baby out […] back” becoming “native woman with a baby on her back” added a whole new person to Sarah’s story who we didn’t know was there before. Working out parts of phrases like “to the natives that I had lost my way” or “looking down the descent” word by word continually add more clues to what happened. I’ve been finding it an intriguing challenge and while we may never have a complete transcription, we can possibly get close with time.
Lead writer: Brianna Vincent
Research support: Michele Leggott