About nine years ago, I stood in a gravel parking lot at sunset. All alone. This was my sunset practice in a parking lot with three or four cars. A large mound of dirt piled up with a carved slope in the middle. A black speck roamed around the base of it. We made eye contact. He sat. A black dog nodded at me. The sun cast the dirt to a burnt gold. In front of me, muddy green fields unrolled behind a barbed-wire fence; behind me buildings walled up around the lot. My friends continued their daily lives inside of them, ready to go home. I do not know how the cars got here.
I climbed over the barbed wire, sinking my feet into the long green grass. All mud underneath. And I walked and walked and walked until the parking lot shrank out of view and became a staggered line of speckled dark on the horizon, where I came from. The dog did not follow.
In front of me rolled green up and down, darkening beneath the glacial clouds above. They took on the sun. The sky burned. The fields continued left and right, widening forward, winding up the horizon until my sight vanished into the foothills. And above the foothills, clouds. Beneath the clouds, a jagged white smudge, distant, marked with the sky’s purple onto the blank snow. The clouds darkened, and the wind picked up. Water specks dotted hands and face, smoldering the sky’s flame. I looked back. This is rainy and cold. We can endure more than we think. The sun extinguished, finally, like the candles at the end of a liturgy (nature is no liturgy), and I turned back towards home.
This feeling of the green fields beyond the barbs came to mind recently, and here it is written down. And I, like most days, sat writing this memory down at a coffee shop—one that was not especially good—with a book in front of me. It’s too mundane to bear, but I bear it. A table and book, inside of a neighborhood simulacrum of a German village, with no capital-N Nature nor any event in particular to bring me out of my own mind. No high ceilings to pull my perception away. Just a quiet patience pulling up memory. I exaggerate with metaphor (look above: “the sky burned”!?) in my memory. Make it big enough, beyond apprehension, but small enough to trust, and memory becomes long-form, a patience sunk deep enough to believe that a story—some collection of memories put into motion—will, hopefully, unfold over time. (That is the patience of the past; here we are in the present). The unfolding, time slowed but never stilled (patience of the present). What am I saying? It’s nice to feel small, clustered in the coffee shop walls, and see the world slip out of mind.
How often desire folds into memory. Last year, during the summer, I drove out to the Sierras to help document a backpacking trip. It was a route I should have memorized, because, in that green-field time nine years ago, I drove this highway full of desire. Desire for friends and closet lovers, desire for connection and carelessness, abandoning the regularity of the rest of my life. Place holds my memory, welling it up, and, well, I missed those moments and desires and carefreeness. Some, probably waiting to die, say moments pass into oblivion. No! They make a home in my heart! This heart’s still beating.
Think of photography of the present, masked as memory. You can take a photo and infuse it with nostalgia, you know. Nostalgia like a strange fabrication, like a nod to an old self. Condense your experience and strip all the contingencies away (this religious gesture!), so that all that remains is this essence of yourself. The part of you that survives to this day, no longer attached to the wind or the skies-on-fire or the muddy grass, buried deep in your memory, resurfaces. The part of you that’s taken its time to unfold. Pure feeling.