In the Paris Review, McDonell writes about Peter Matthiessen's lost notebook and a meaningful act of friendship.
Peter traveled with universal notebooks, taking notes on the right-hand pages, leaving the left blank until he used them for his first run at usable copy—usually in the evening after a day of reporting. It was an efficient system that made him productive on the road. The notebooks were artifacts, too, and I think they meant as much to him as the research they held, although he insisted that this was a silly idea.
He lost one of those notebooks once, at the San Francisco airport, while returning from reporting in Klamath National Forest in Northern California. Those were the days of pay phones, and Peter had left the notebook at one in the main terminal—for only a few minutes, but when he realized what he had done and quickly returned, it was gone. Hans Teensma, who was the art director at Outside, had driven Peter to the airport and was seeing him off. They went on the search together. Then as now, there was no effective lost-and-found at any airport, so that took about five minutes before they started reverse engineering the trash-disposal procedure. They found rooms full of sorted garbage, but Peter, forlorn and increasingly resigned to the loss, had a flight to catch.
The Accidental Life is available now in paperback from Vintage Books.