Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Newtonian Inevitability of the Past and Present becoming One

Lately I have been thinking a lot about national parks, and I can't think about national parks without thinking about my trips to them with my dad. My dad and I (sometimes accompanied by other family members) have taken several trips to Yellowstone, which now, years later, have sort of run together in my mind, creating an indistinct but overwhelmingly positive nostalgia. Recently, there have been nights when I've been drifting off to sleep, trying to clear my head of apparatus theory and forensic nonsense, and my last thoughts before finally conking out have been of a couple of very vivid locations in national parks. I'm not sure whether they exist at all, or if I've ever been to them, but they're evocative of the general sense of excitement and enjoyment I always felt when we were there.

Once during my youth, I remember driving through the park together, maybe on the way back from dropping one of my illustrious siblings off at college for the year, and we stopped in one of those little towns on the outskirts--perhaps even West Yellowstone--and browsed old arcades filled with buffalo nickels embedded in shiny, foul-smelling wooden furniture. We picked out a white vase with blue and brown swirls around it to bring back to my mom. I remember driving through the parts of the park destroyed by the fire, and my dad commenting on how massive the blazes must have been to reduce entire forests stretching across mountains to charred, Tim-Burton-esque little twigs as far as the eye can see. I remember getting out of the car and having wobbly legs from having sat for hours, then clomping down the wooden boardwalks that crisscross and frame the delicate crust of the seismic areas. We'd talk about how hot the water under the ground was, and how all the sulfur in the air smelled like rotten eggs and then watch the geysers burp up a storm. We were never around Old Faithful for a particularly spectacular eruption, but the moderate rumbles to which I was privy were glorious enough.

My dad and I had a particularly fun national park trip the first time he picked me up from college--after my freshman year. We drove through southern Utah to go to Arches and Moab and all those other dusty orange parks down there. It was a radically different landscape than either of us were accustomed to, and it was fun to listen to him marvel at the rock formations aloud, telling me how magnificent it all was, and how--since he'd grown up in Delaware--he'd never seen such a sight until he'd moved to the west. We hiked around Fiery Furnace, and looked at rocks that resembled chimneys, and canyons carved out by sudden rainstorms, and arches with curves and dips and all sorts of characteristics that we'd never imagined rocks would have. We took pictures poised at the edge of precipices (my dad and I have a long-standing tradition of being photographed precariously at the edge of monuments and steep drop-offs). In the evenings, we'd eat at diners, go to the drugstore to buy aloe, and head back to the hotel, where my sunburned arms and legs would radiate all night as the air conditioner dripped away.

It was either on that same trip, after we'd seen the parks in Utah, or that same summer on our way to our first annual family-fest (complete with themed t-shirts) that we drove through Yellowstone again. We didn't stop much, but we took in all those glorious sights. I remember driving slowly as buffalo ambled around the car, and enjoying all the varying landscapes going by, from forest to plain, to geyser hotspot, and through the burned forest. I remember holding my discman and listening to Boards of Canada as all of these delights passed before my eyes.
Like I said, we've made numerous trips to and through the parks, and I suppose I could go back and get the record straight of where and when and why we went each time, but really, I have no desire to disentangle each trip from the others. They all mingle together and make me recall a general feeling of wonderment and joy that I got to share with my dad.


emilie said...

meredith a bak. i love this blog. and i love that you did a presentation on benjamin and the arcades. can you please send me the article you wrote? i would be fascinated. i love you my meredith.

Brien said...

Especially living in Las Vegas, a high plane desert valley, I long for the lush greens and morning dew of the north. The sunburned landscape here holds it's own beauty, but as the days- and soon the nights- become dependent upon air conditioning I can't help but feeling like a disadvantaged stranger in a strange land "pining for the fjords"... longing for an annual quota of rain that can't be fulfilled in merely one day. I hope that when we go senile, or when we die, we end up reliving that blurred nostalgia that visits us in our unconscious moments, not to relive but to fully indulge as if it were jamais-vous.

Cheers Mere. B.McCrea