a memoir: family food photos life

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Thursday, January 14, 2010


I am hiking on my uncle Joel's property. He lives just outside Atlanta on 40 acres. I haven't been here often but I feel like I've lived here my whole life. The land is like an old friend; I know it's shapes, it's twists and turns, every tree greets me with its slow sway in the breeze. The hills are covered in little woody patches, interspersed by carpets of soft tall wheat colored grass and splayed down the left side by a gentle stream. On this day I am alone, how I usually prefer it. It's warm and the air is becoming thicker with moisture by the second. I love it. I follow the dirt trail through the grass by babbling stream, listening to the soft crunch of dry ground underfoot. My senses are so alive here-electrified even-and I feel more aware of nature than I have anywhere else in the world. My path leads me up a small open hill and veers me right, away from the stream, for a moment. The sun beats down on my bare arms. I come to the top of the hill and see the familiar decrepit wood fence that marks the boundary of the property. A short ways off is the big oak I remember, shimmied right up against the fence on this side. I look up in the sky to see where the sun is, my dad was always so good at that. He could figure out the time to the minute by just looking at the sun's position. Right now I judge it's about 11:15. I've been hiking for forty-five minutes. The family BBQ is at four so that gives me a good three hours before I need to go home and wash up. I sit down at the base of the old oak and take out my water bottle. I imagine Alice seeing the white rabbit. This place is much more dry and harsh than a beautiful green English garden. A jack rabbit would be much more fitting. I lean back and close my eyes, the first beads of perspiration begin at my temples. I wipe it away and run my hands through my hair. I lift the limp, dishwater blond hair up away from my neck rubbing my knuckles on the bark as I do so. I take out my sketchbook and look around. I've drawn this oak a thousand times, mostly from memory. It's the one thing I'm good at drawing-trees. I wish I had a talent more worth while. I wish I was more passionate about something in particular. I used to be passionate. I tried music - flute, piano, guitar. I tried art. One thing I did love was writing in my journal when I was lost. I used to be philosophical, I used to dig deep, I used to cut my heart open and bleed my emotions out in words. I don't know where it all went, all that passion.
I think about celebrities, world leaders, tyrants, people who've put their name on the pages of history. They have passion. And how hard did they have to work to be remembered for something? Did Genghis Khan realize his name would be spoken of for centuries? Did Homer or Shakespeare? I often think about those whose names aren't written on history's pages. The trillions of nobodies who meant everything to no one in particular. The people in the background on those documentaries. Who are they? Who were they? I like to think if I had their individual stories I could publish the greatest books. They have passion. Everyone has passion; painting, speaking, golf, money, religion, love, football, teaching, eating. I want to find mine.
I lean my cheek against the tree. Even this tree has passion, vibrancy, life. I touch the rough bark with my finger tips. I think of the lives this tree has lived. I know it has a spirit, it may not be one of intelligence but it has a spirit nonetheless. I close my eyes and breath in deeply. The air moves around me. So thick and heavy. I try to feel the thrum of life in this air as it pulsates over me. The buzz of an insect, the rustle of the leaves. I wish I could capture this feeling in a jar, to save it and open it again on a stressful day, to breath in the peace I feel in this moment.

I open my eyes. I sketch another tree then shift my position to the right. I'm now facing the old brown barn up on the crest of the next hill. It shimmered in the afternoon heat. I remember seeing that barn time after time and thinking there was nothing enticing about it. I do have an interest in old buildings, about their histories and who lived in them or used them. But this one did nothing in particular for me. It was a simple ten by twelve foot barn, more of a tool shed I guess. I'd been inside only twice and found nothing of interest - an old glass bottle, a rusted bolt. Today was the same but to kill some time I decided to go have another look around. I put my sketch book away and climbed the next little grade up to the barn. It was a little steeper than others and overlooked the neighbor's stark little valley to the west. A few cows were lolling in the sparse shade the mangy scrub oak put off. I watched a hawk hover over what apparently became an unenticing meal and soar away. The little shed was still just as boring and just as old. The wood was greying and the door hung on its hinges like a single loose tooth. I decided not to go inside this time as I figured there was nothing to go inside for.
As I rounded the corner something caught my eye. A few feet off to my right I saw a faint gleam. I backed up a couple steps and could just make out heat waves about three feet from my face. I tried to focus my eyes to see what they were coming off of but they appeared to be shimmering in mid-air. It was as if the heat waves had condensed in this one spot. At first I thought it was my imagination, either that or some sort of a strange little wind vortex - like a dust tornado without the dust. But as I took a step closer I saw a faint gleam coming from the waves in the air. I had the strange urge to reach forward and touch it, and as any reasonable human in my situation might do, I put my whole arm through the shimmering air. My arm disappeared completely. I gasped and tried to take a step back but I felt this strong tugging motion, as if I had just put my arm in a toilet. A toilet that got stronger and stronger each time I tried to remove my arm. With every inch i pulled, the little vortex gained. I couldn't allow myself to scream, I was still stupidly intrigued by this strange occurrence in nature. My shoulder was now steadily disappearing and my feet were slipping in the dirt. I yelled out in frustration. What was happening?! If I were completely sucked in would I just be spit out on the other side? Was this not nature? Had I stumbled on to something bigger? Something unexplainable? My cheek was now pressed against it. I felt waves of heat radiating around my body. I flexed my left hand, the one that had now disappeared, and felt nothing. The heat was now encircling me, stifling me, the air so hot it burned my throat and filled my lungs like I had just inhaled steam from a boiling teapot. The heat seemed to have its own gravitational pull and the harder I fought the harder it bore down on me. I tried to scream but my lungs were heavy. My head reeled from the heat and my last sight before I blacked out was that old barn, gaping at me with its loose tooth as if witnessing a crime it could not stop but could not look away from. My body fell and I lost consciousness.

1 comment:

  1. I got hooked into this story... I like your writing