Aegean, off the coast of Turkey.
What is it that causes one’s senses to have such sway on one’s memories and such a pull at one’s heart? I have lost count of the number of times I have had to pause in day-to-day life as I inhale sharply, remembering the way the sun shone on the Rio Grande River or the crunch of gravel underfoot in northern Arizona. These memories are so vivid as to be visceral, causing my stomach to clench or my heart to thump.
This summer, as my husband and I ride horses into the hills above the Bodrum Peninsula of Turkey, my heart skips a beat as the wind picks up, carrying on its back the scent of the pines, which is somehow the same as the smell of sun-warmed ponderosas in Arizona, half a world away. My mind travels time and space to return to sunny hikes to Wolf Creek and the sighting of horny toads and lizards, who lay prostrate on boulders, gleaning warmth from the light.
And then, I return to the present, to the clop of the horse hoofs as we round a bend into a small town, where children peek through crevices in rock walls to watch foreigners move through on horseback. Three young girls dash from their yard, waving and following us as we turn once more and head back into the Turkish hills that are somehow also the ones of my memories.
The imprint of sight and smell, sound and touch, and yes, taste, on one’s mind is stunning. I need only to smell the scent of cut hay drying in the field as night falls to find my mind back in the car, traversing hairpin turn after hairpin turn as I wind my way from Bend, Oregon towards the Idaho border, with This American Life providing company and conversation.
Sometimes our memories produce reminiscences of things we have tried to scrub and scour from the crevices of our brains. The sound of a mobile phone operator announcing that all circuits are busy causes my brain to race backwards to the moments of September 11, 2001, as I sat in New York City, attempting to contact family to tell them that I was okay, but that so many others were not.
The sight of a newly cleared patch of northwest forest, spotted when I drive almost anywhere in these parts and where doug firs are grown as a crop, much like corn, causes my throat to ache with the memory of arriving at a favorite hike, only to find acre upon acre of clear-cut land, still scarred and raw. Gone were the ferns and the berries and the mossy trunks.
But I choose to delve into the pleasant memories. The single yellow leaf that now lies on the green grass, which leads me below the surface of Walden Pond in Massachusetts, where I open my eyes and see emerald depths below and red maple leaves floating on the surface above, as bubbles amble towards the air.
Memories come unbidden and unannounced and leave without a long and teary goodbye. Some memories appear after decades, and remind me of small and unimportant events. Other memories come back weekly or even daily, such as the uneven feel of the sandstone floors of our house in northern New Mexico as I walk on smooth bamboo each night, shuffling to each door to check locks where I once left doors open to invite cool mountain air.
The challenge, it seems, is to welcome memories, to dive deep inside them and then return them to the mind for safekeeping. For becoming mired in the sight of bobbing dried grasses on high altitude mesas or the sound of muezzin after muezzin calling the faithful to prayer seems to cause the mind to tire and become less aware of the present and the experiences of each day and indeed, each minute.
And so I close my eyes on a path, as I listen to the lap of the lake on the bank and return to the babbling brook of San Cristobal Canyon. But then my eyes open and I see the beauty of the dance of light and shadow, as cottonwoods snow gently on sandy shores, and I form new memories, which will then reappear in my future.
And you? What are some of your memories and when do they arise? How do you move forwards in the present while embracing your past?
Daily Post has a weekly photo challenge, and this week is the theme Inside. This photo is taken at the boundary between inside and outside: the screen in the window. From outside, the sun shines in, creating shadows on white curtains.
It is almost 8 pm and I’ve just realized that the sun has sunk behind the empty house to the rear of mine earlier than the last time I’ve noticed it. I try not to give in to the feeling of panic- months of rain coming when it’s only now just left. But the rustle and hum of the wind in the leaves brings me back to a piercing blue sky, green trees, and the joys of lingering dusk amidst the feelings and sensations of summer.
On Saturday, as my husband sleeps off the effects of night shift and the dog lies under the table, hiding from the heat, I set out across town by bicycle to the Mississippi Street Fair. It is late afternoon, and the bike I ride moves silently along, giving us away only through the rumble of the tires on the road.
I live on a peninsula in Portland, surrounded by the Willamette and the Columbia rivers. Each evening at around 8pm, a solitary great blue heron flaps and glides in the airspace over my house, heading north to the lakes and the slough. When I gaze into the distance, I see the Tualatin Mountains instead of the city, and on foggy nights, barges sound their horns as they tow freight from here to there.
And while this peninsular existence permits a sense of rural within a city and encourages speedy escapes to the cottonwoods and oaks of Sauvie Island, it also allows access to the hum and the churn of a gritty city on the banks of the river.
As I turn left onto Willamette Drive, heading towards the old cedars and bluffs of the university, I sense the presences of others behind me. The whirring of pedals, the shifting of gears, and suddenly the, “On your left!” tossed over the right shoulder as road bike after road bike sails past me. Numbers tattoo the backs of the riders and spandex jerseys clothe muscular frames. I am instantly aware of my from-a-yard-sale helmet and my plaid shirt and jeans, which will blend in with the crowds I’ll soon join, but stand out from the trim and aerodynamic clothing of my racers.
At a stoplight I pause, sandaled toe touching the ground, and ask a gray-haired rider wearing headphones if there is an organized ride going on. His eyes roll almost imperceptibly, and yes, he says, it’s the Seattle to Portland ride and they’re almost finished. I smile and offer a comment indicating my awe and pedal forward as one after another of the bikers zooms past, head down and shoulders hunched, as if rider and bicycle had, in the hundreds of miles between Seattle and Portland, merged into one functioning machine.
Several years ago, as we drove back from a night of campfires and pickup-truck-bed sleeping on the coast, we encountered these riders out further along the Columbia. For the hour or so that remained of our trip, we passed bikers, dodging swerving riders who darted out into traffic, intent on passing those like themselves without a thought of the tons of racing steel in the next lane. On that day, the upstream swim of bikers seemed to be an intrusion into the sunlight and wildflower drive from the coast to home. Driving now required remaining vigilant for weaving tires as riders drank water or opened the wrappers of energy bars, and a drive that had been filled with two people and one dog was suddenly as crowded as downtown.
This evening, however, as bicycles rush past and form a school some fifty feet ahead of me, their presence is not maddening. Rather, I feel like part of the group, even though their in-time pedaling and choreographed leans in the turns take place ahead of me and without thought to the part-time biker and scenery-gazer behind. I change gears, pedal more swiftly, and stay in the same place, neither gaining nor losing distance. And then, as I turn right to follow the bluff and they head east on Rosa Parks, the traffic and the rush of the populace die away and I am left once again with the whir of my tires, the gentle hush of the wind in the leaves, and the glint of sunlight on the industry of Swan Island below.
I’ve realized that this intersection of rural and urban, people and environment, boisterous and muted, is one I cherish. Here, I can choose the quiet of Sturgeon Lake waters lapping between the shade-giving saplings on shore, or I can dive into the chaos and the music and the shouting of the street fair, where I become one in thousands and must negotiate between laughter, dancing, conversation.
And then, in just minutes, I can be home again, in time to watch the coven of crows gather and swoop off to bed, as my friend the heron flies north to a lake, surrounded by a port, at the confluence of two mighty rivers.
What intersections mark your life and your home? Where do you fly?
It is night now. Not evening, not early morning, but simply and truly nighttime. Near the window, the breeze seeps in, dropping from over 80 degrees Fahrenheit to a cool 58. It is soon time for sleep and certainly time for silence.
As nighttime comes to our house, it envelops rooms in a sense of cozy and calm. Rugs and the couch seem to trump floors and wooden tables. Curtains cloak windows and muffle the remainders of the din of the day.
No room transitions so thoroughly from day into night as the kitchen. In the day, our kitchen is the hub of all activity. Kettles whistle, coffee is ground in the antique grinder, water hisses on, fills pots, and thumps off. Plates clatter as they go in or out of the dishwasher and drawers slide open and shut as cabinets empty onto chopping boards and into skillets.
Through all of this, traffic patterns ebb and flow. The dog enters, circles, and sequesters herself under the table. My husband and I waltz, sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally, on the old rug in the middle of the floor. I spin from sink to counter to stove to freezer and he moves through, dodging the hand grasping for more pepper and amusing the dog, who emerges, sits, and howls for a pat or a piece of cucumber.
But now, after stone counters have been wiped down, the compost pail has made its trek to the back corner of the yard, and glasses are seated on the wooden drying rack, the kitchen comes to rest, fully and completely.
In the kitchen, there is a dim light over the stove that remains on all night, providing the only light in the house for late returns from swing shift or that one last walk around the block with a sleepy canine more interested in lost French fries and cats than in moving swiftly. The light causes seasoned cast iron to glow, and creates shadows that hide the errant oat flake or drip of tomato sauce.
The radio is the last soul in the kitchen to come to rest. By night time, the buzz and urgency has left the voices of the public radio station announcers and local music or world news enters the room from the old clock radio, which has travelled across states and decades with my husband. It is likely to have already been turned low in order to allow for daytime phone calls or questions about lunch and plans and futures. It may even be left to talk to the silence, murmuring softly enough to be overshadowed by the refrigerator’s whir.
As the kitchen settles in for the night, so does the dog, who sleepily stands and stretches, arching her back as she staggers to the staircase leading to the bedroom and her own bed. Blueberries left from a raid on the bushes just out the side door sit in a mug, awaiting their morning hot cereal fate. And chairs sit empty, expecting company come dawn.
And night surrounds. And envelopes. And soothes. And renews.
And you? What happens as day turns to night in your life?