Since it is Memorial Day, it seemed fitting to think about this word––committed to memory, in memory of. Most of us use the long weekend to get away, inaugurate summer a couple weeks early, instead of remembering the dead who served in wars (myself included). For me, it became a chance to drive through memories of place, experiences inscribed onto the land. Also, to revel in the silence of the west. After Los Angeles traffic it seems like I am forever alone in this space of air and rock.
At 6am, Mt. Whitney was peaking over the southern ridge, catching the sun’s first rays. I drove north, up the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, towards Reno, a place I haven’t been since March 3. Home. The drive is spectacular, through redwoods and volcanic rock outcroppings, steaming geothermal springs in the middle of sage, the backside of Yosemite, past Mono Lake, the cottonwoods releasing their seed, while the land slowly morphs into high desert. Nevada is the most mountainous state in the union and I have become used to being surrounded by over 10,000 ft peaks. This is a drive I have done at least once a year for over a decade, most often with my family, and on a schedule.
But this time, I am not staying at my house, because it is rented until end of June, so I was driving towards my parent’s, a different memory. Since I am leaving for over a year (after being gone off and on a majority of the past 10 months), the idea of home has become more flexible, less static. I am developing a nomad’s relationship with brick and mortar. Tomorrow I have been given permission to enter my house, pack what is necessary to live in Vermont (in an already furnished apartment)... What will I choose besides clothes, books, mugs and tea/coffee paraphenalia, art and writing supplies, in order to layer memories, which seem like a form of warmth?
Two things I realized that seem important to re-memory today. First, I arrived at Mono Lake and wanted to walk down to the tufa rocks (they are alive, growing), about ¼ mile through vegetation and out onto a dock so people won't ruin the wetlands. I was the only one there and usually I am hyper aware of being a woman, alone. Ok, scared. But I walked to the edge and the tufa glowed, like frozen amorphous monsters at least 3 feet taller than me, while the rabbits ran in the bushes. It was a bit magic. If I let fear rule my life, I wouldn’t have this memory.
Second, I realized at a certain point I didn’t have to go straight. My schedule, for once, is my own. So I took a left. Drove through my own memories of place, and made new ones to carry with me. I visited a lake I have been to maybe four times before, a shaken snow globe of present and past. I put my feet in the water, new snowmelt. But the contours of the lake, the mountains and rock formations seemed unchanged so it had the appearance of continuity. Can we stand in our memory? Shop it, like a store of remembrances? Standing in the water, I could feel the echoes around me but also, it was its own reality even as it re-etched my neurology one groove deeper. Present. The smells, unchanged, the air on the skin at 8,500 ft. Sitting tonight in my parent’s living room, all this is already a memory, and yet the silt is still on the bottom of my shoes by the door and probably between my toes. I have two hunks of granite from the lake edge to carry with me to Vermont. Some photographs. Things to help me be mindful, unafraid, remember I can turn off the path at any time and strike a new one: bits of memory to make a new home.
Oh, a third thing: surprise. I sneezed and took a selfie by mistake which I love. And also a photo inside the car, at the very end of the post, data memory. Maybe it is a byte.
1. the mental capacity or faculty of retaining, storing, and reviving facts, events, impressions, sensations etc., or of recalling or recognizing previous experiences.
2. this faculty as possessed by a particular individual
3. the part of the brain that appears to have this function
4. the act or fact of retaining and recalling impressions, facts, etc.; the sum of everything retained by the mind; remembrance; recollection: to draw from memory.
5. the length of time over which recollection extends
6. a mental impression retained; a recollection of an event or person
7. the reputation of a person or thing, especially after death; fame
8. the state or fact of being remembered.
9. the mental faculty of retaining and recalling past experience based on learning, retention, recall, and recognition.
10. persistent modification of behavior resulting from experience.
11. the capacity of a material, such as plastic or metal, to return to a previous shape after deformation.
12. the capability of the immune system to produce a specific secondary response to an antigen it has previously encountered.
13. the mental image of an experience, that is stored in the memory.
14. part of a computer in which data is stored for later; capacity of a computer, chips, and storage devices to preserve data and programs for retrieval; memory is measured in bytes.
Middle English: from Old French memorie, from Latin memoria, from memor ‘mindful, remembering.’