on memory

The truth is, I think I would forget about the details of conversations with Grace if I didn’t write them down. Already I look back on other things I’ve written, at least the things I care to read again, and the act of reading is an act of reminding. I don’t know that I would keep these ideas, the images, the knowings of who I’ve been, if I didn’t write them down. I don’t know if this is consoling or frightening.

A habit of mine is to pour over maps of road trips, hiking trips, or even just places yet to be seen firsthand. They create for me a certain image. I wonder if part of this dates back to a memory I have of mapmaking in my dad’s surveying office. Maps for me are both an anchor to places and a memory of the essence of maps themselves. Dad’s office had big drafting tables, tall stools, colored pencils (with electric pencil sharpeners), but also oiled boots, survey ribbon, and men with dirty button-up shirts and rain gear. It smelled like wood and rain, but also paper and pencil shavings.

501358-2010-05-26-12-15.jpgToday I ordered detailed topographic maps for a weeklong trek this summer. It wasn’t my responsibility to get the maps; I’m not leading the trip; I know our guide will have this all taken care of; I already have an overview map. But the maps, to me, are both prologue and epilogue to the journey. They’re the potential and the memory. They’ll be here next week, and I’ll scour over them and imagine what the map is both showing and hiding. After walking that dashed line labeled “trail,” I’ll look back at the footsteps left on the map (if I look closely enough, I imagine) and have a new anchor to the memory of the place.


Memories are also stored in photos, and recently when I was scrambling over desert slabs I was thrown back into geological time — this never ceases to entrance me — but also my own lifetime. I pass Wall Arch and think to the pictures we took before it fell, from the other side where now there are car sized blocks obscuring the former trail.  I tread the route to Delicate Arch and I see myself in the photo taken years ago with daughters in hand. Under Navajo Arch I see the lighting as it was through Karyn’s lens just a year before. And petroglyphs etched into mineralized faces are always in the background, daughters’ silhouettes in the foreground. Even though I’m not paging through the photo album itself, the taking of the pictures etches the memory.

What I’ve found, slowly, is that many of these entries are not about thinking new things or working on new ideas, like I originally told myself. Lots of this has turned into my own mental scrapbook. I used to think that I was immune to forgetting important things, but now as I look back on events or feelings that I wrote about, the aspects I never imagined leaving my consciousness get re-remembered. (And, I start to think that I should compile some of these into one place, just to continue to re-remember.) I’ve always said that this writing space is for me, and more and more I’m figuring out how true that is, in more ways than I’d realized when I started.

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