of place and memory

the tire swing

Memory works in mysterious ways. We can’t remember what we ate for breakfast yesterday, but we can remember who hit the final home run for the Toronto Blue Jays in the 1992 World Series*. I occasionally forget my phone number, but I have never forgotten the phone number sung by Stompin’ Tom Connors in the radio ad for PEI++. Childhood memories are the strongest of all.

I’ve been thinking about memory lately because I’m helping my dad with his memoirs, which he would like to have published in some form. The most interesting part of his life story (in my opinion) is the period between school and marriage, when he had many adventures and met the love of his life. But in order to get to this story, a good third of what he has written is about his childhood — home and family, boats and cows, fishing and stamp collecting, school teachers and neighbours. The sights and smells of those early days are still so fresh to him, but more recent years run into each other, their details blurred.

And it’s not just the debilitation that comes with age, because I’ve begun to realize my memories are the same. The memory of hurts and high points from my youngest years are stronger than those in more recent times. I can walk around my parents’ back yard and say with absolute certainty: here is where I fell and cut my hand on the broken bottles; here is where I found Trixie; here is where my dad hung the swing; here is where I hid and cried for my mother to find me. Whatever happens between age 6 and 16 is written in stone; anything after that is malleable, edited or erased by the passage of time.

*Joe Carter
++ “eight-double-zero, five six five, seven four two one…”

Photo taken on November 1, 2010

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through the window

through the window

New England has sent us a storm today; the forecasters predict upwards of 50mm of rain. I heard it beating in waves against the windows last night, along with a wind that howls up from the valley and thrums under the eaves. The city is dark, and the black-paved streets and deep puddles swallow light and create bizarre reflections; down the street I see a bright yellow school bus leading a parade of cautious cars. Drivers hunch over their steering wheels, their windshield wipers just out-of-sync with those of the car behind.

I am heading uptown in an hour, knowing the rain will drive sideways as I scurry around tall buildings, knowing the water will pour in rivers down the steep alleys and my feet will get wet. I will wear my yellow rain jacket and walk quickly. When I come home again, I will run inside, dripping, rain-tossed and bedraggled. My glasses will steam up from the warm house and there will be fresh homemade bread and baked beans. And I will be grateful that it is not yet winter.

Photo taken on October 24, 2009

liquid sunshine

liquid sunshine

Our attitude toward weather is clearly biased. Despite the fact that we need precipitation to survive, wet weather is always bad weather, and sunny weather is fair and fine and good. Popular culture mostly reflects this. Think of the classic Harold Arlen song, Stormy Weather: “Life is bare, gloom and misery everywhere/Stormy weather, just can’t get my poor old self together…” Compare Rainy Days and Mondays (always get me down) and Sunshine on My Shoulders (makes me happy). Oh sure, you might hear Laughter in the Rain but you’re much more likely to be Walking in Sunshine.

I don’t know the origin of the term “liquid sunshine”, but I know when applied to rain it sounds much more pleasant. It’s a perfect illustration of the power of language to change how you feel about something. I’d rather drink from a glass which is half-full rather than one which is half-empty. Sure, I feel just as gloomy as the next person when the skies are dark and the rain is coming down in buckets, but maybe I need an attitude-ectomy. Maybe next time it rains, I’ll get out my jungle umbrella and go for a walk (instead of just standing on the front porch, like I did to take this photo). I don’t need more excuses to stay inside, I need more motivation to get out of the house. Would you like to join me? Come on, let’s go “walkin’ in liquid sunshine, oh yeah!”

Photo taken on October 27, 2010

storm and stress

stormy afternoon

Storms are like operas. At the start, you can sense the dark clouds building on the horizon, the impending doom. In the midst of the storm, there is a lot of wind and wild movement, small creatures run away and copious tears are shed. The German term sturm und drang (storm and stress) describes well the extremes of emotion expressed during the height of an operatic storm.

Then there is a lull, a deceptively peaceful period when the eye of the storm passes over and it seems that love will prevail, after all. You have a moment to lean back and take a sip of wine, but — watch out — the 2nd act is more dramatic than the first, so hold on to your seat! Again the wind comes howling through, tossing limbs and bending strong trees to the ground. Again the chorus of sirens, as lightning strikes and fire rages. Again the shedding of copious tears, the heartbreak, the tragedy of untimely loss.

At last — yes, once the well-endowed soprano has sung her final dying note — it ends. The world has been scoured and refreshed, the storm has passed on and life will continue. Catharsis, and peace. Tension, and release. Storm, and silence.

Taken on October 15, 2010

to everything, turn

Already it’s the end of September, and winter is suddenly close at hand. The days seem to be rushing headlong toward the end of the year. Resist the urge to get carried along with the rush. Take a few moments to breathe; stroll for a moment through the garden before leaping into your day. Feel the cool-fingered breeze at your neck. Listen as geese fly overhead, calling to each other. Look around you; see how the leaves are changing, see how they gather in drifts at your feet.

All too soon, this burst of colour will be gone. In a few weeks, you will see the cold stars looking down through the bare fingers of trees. Look well, and drink in the season. Autumn is here, and it is already passing.

Taken on September 23, 2010

that summery feeling

There are a few memories I’d like to take into winter with me. I’d like to remember the hot breeze on my forehead, the warm sun against my back. I’d like to remember the whispering of the pines and the tinkling of the poplar leaves as they dance in the wind. I’d like to remember the hot sand beneath the soles of my feet, and the soft grass tickling my bare toes. I’d like to remember this: standing (carefully) in the dappled shade of a thorn tree, hearing the buzz of flies circling lazily in the noonday sun, gazing at the wide open field under blue blue skies.

Taken on August 11, 2010

King Street, morning

The sun is up, and the air feels fresh. Light is streaming between buildings, casting bright reflections from one side of the street to the other. Walking through the cool shade, you suddenly emerge into blinding light. There is a fluttering of wings as pigeons scatter through the park. Looking down King Street, you can see the sun sparkle on the open water at the bottom of the hill. A seagull calls as it soars high above the bridge. You might stop for a coffee, or maybe meet a friend along the way. The thing is, to get moving. The rest of the day beckons.

Taken on September 14, 2010