GHOSTS

or In Pursuit of Drainpipe Wonder

A guy called Bell wrote this – or something similar to which I’ve taken a rusty blade of ill-got license and repurposed: We commonly invest in places our ghosts and call them theirs, though these ghosts are forever our own and we the places.

I began musing on this a few years ago, soon after I meticulously washed the soil of soft youth from my warm skin soles for the sake of feeling new when I laced up my new leather shoes. As I stood before my dorm room mirror – light-lit left and twilight right – my hair fell to my brighter eye and wrapped a wayward lash. It tickled a bit and I brushed it away with a toothpaste-foam finger and wondered then – as I’d been wondering for weeks – where the hell Cory had gone; why I couldn’t smell the toothpaste or the pines outside or sheets a week overdue; my vision too had been hazy and clarity of sound seemed entirely foreign. And I wondered where the wonder went that once embraced my days and nights like cursive lines do their cherished spaces and I sought so zealously to find and remember it and feel it again. But I couldn’t and I didn’t know why it was gone, or where it had gone, or where to look. And this numbness and confusion continued for months, but it broke for a short time when I remembered a photograph of a field and in rare and evanescent clarity I contrived the following piece about ghosts.

To begin, let me queue up the George Winston piano tracks that’ll carry me back to the patchwork expanse of the Western Oregon countryside within which I played, grew, learned and loved. For the sake of ensuring my admittedly romanticized reminiscences are authentically conveyed, I’m going to approach this as more of a stream of consciousness than an essay and retain faith that the product, the final consolidation of my emotions and thoughts, lends itself to coherence; it’s always hard to put to words something so integral to one’s being – at least it is for me. I’m sorry if this comes off as cheesy; to me these are the most real things in the world.

Okay. (Scroll). George Winston – “Hummingbird.” (Play) “HOLY CRAP!” (Volume down)

Back home life burnt orange and sunset seemed to span all the hours of the valley-haze days. Raspberry sweet clung to the warm, evening breeze and gripped the thick smell of green as it wove through and between the broad maple leaves.

From across the quilted and rolling fields of wheat it briskly approached before passing beyond the Cindy Lou slope of my six-year-old nose as quickly as it came. It always came from the east, this nose-full of chlorophyll and musty raspberry rinds warmed by the heat of the late summer sun. Each evening, as the last orange rays sprawled across the sky I’d walk up the street to the old barn and face the patchwork. I’d watch as the beams to my back painted my shadow taller and darker on the field before me. I’d watch as each shining blade turned from orange to gray and as the faraway trees did the same before tossing the last of the light to the mountaintops of the distant Cascades. Now it’s dark. I’d walk home. This is “place.”

Place isn’t geography, it’s not even physical – it’s founded in the processessional; Bell would argue the same. This place I call “home” – the place I described above – is “home” because it’s where I became me. I blew bubbles over these fields and chased them atop dad’s shoulders as they rode that raspberry breeze; I marveled at the delicate beauty of mom’s hand as she pulled my wagon through the rippling wheat to our secret picnic spot amidst the maples. Into the strawberry patch a thousand times I threw the tennis ball for Buddy – I felt joy. I learned loss.

In the bed of my pickup beside the barn I sought to show Katrina the sunset the way I saw it. She couldn’t see it quite the same; she couldn’t feel it how I did. Neither could Allie.

I tried to translate.

I failed – but I learned. I learned immediacy, the nature of subjectivity; I learned that what, to me, means everything, can mean nothing to another; it was sobering.

Drenched by the Perseid showers and bright by the mid-August moon, I found what I know was wonder; I lost it with the Leonids.

I learned how quickly two years, even twenty years, can fly; how – like the backlit ‘V’ of late summer geese overhead – people come and go with the seasons and, inevitably, some things just go south.

This “place” is where I felt happy, sad, confused and assured; it’s where I was real. I grew with the wheat and broke with the branches. I was made sweet by the berries and bitter by the Fall. This place is where I became me; there, everyone I ever was still haunts – like those I’ve mentioned, I’m a ghost there too.

I go home now and things are different; the year I left for Montana the east winds finally took the same-side wall of old red barn – an empty foundation stands in its place, half overtaken by briar brambles. It’s beautiful in a new way, but it’s not what I once knew. I see –  there – my old truck. Katrina and I watch satellites from the bed. Cody and I. Buddy and I. Nobody. Nothing.

Over many years, the heavy wheels of the old, chipped-paint blue tractor have pressed what I imagine to be hundreds of tennis balls into the soft earth of the strawberry patch; were Buddy still around, he’d have a nose full of dirt and a slobbery ball between his paws. In moments of fleeting joy, I still see him there, though I don’t really see him. He always seemed to smile.

The little red wagon from which I once marveled at mom’s hands turned to firewood at some point or another by way of my own careless hands; and though I miss it, if that beautiful memory is a specter, it fits the wagon should be too.

So it goes with growing up that neither dad nor I are who we once were; I see us, still, as two-tall running through the undulating, umber wheat. But this vision, too, is susceptible to the weight of time. Eighteen years’ time is long enough to push the better part of me from his strong shoulders to the ground, to make me stand on my own and turn me to the man I watched grow tall before me in that shadow on the wheat. It’s turned me an awestruck observer of the event, romanticized the joy to the point that I’m watching it as an audience rather than living it as a son.

I only vaguely recall what I once saw from my high perch, reaching for a fleeting bubble in a copper-tone, sunset sky, but the feeling I know of this is similar to that which overcomes me when I try to relive what I once lived, to access the past in the present; It is impossible and that is sad. However, it is happy; everything I am today is because of that place, because of those ghosts, because of the beauty by which I was surrounded, by which I was nurtured, in which I grew, to which and whom I hold fast and tight and dear.

I can still stand and marvel at the sunset; I watch as the beams to my back paint my shadow taller and darker on the field before me. I still watch as each shining blade turns from orange to gray, watch as the faraway trees do the same before tossing the last of the light to the mountaintops of the distant Cascades. And so it goes, and so it’s gone for twenty years; the light shone once only on my immediacy, but as my personal sun ever so slowly sets, it shines ever further on glimmering facets of a faraway world I’m slowly coming to know. Someday, I’ll stand atop that distant mountain and feel the old, familiar raspberry breeze brush my cheeks as the sun retires. Then it will be dark and I’ll go home.

These are the ghosts I love; this is the soil I washed from my soles but never truly.

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