Sense and memory

The Citizen-Record (Cumberland) - - CUMBERLAND COUNTY - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Eastern Pas­sages Rus­sell Wanger­sky’s col­umn ap­pears in 30 SaltWire news­pa­pers and web­sites in At­lantic Canada. He can be reached at rwanger@thetele­gram.com; Twit­ter: @wanger­sky.

You for­get the things you should re­mem­ber.

You for­get the size of and majesty of the Rocky Moun­tains, their sheer im­pres­sive­ness, un­til you see them again. For­get the warmth of sum­mer sun on your face, for­get the sweet smell of freshly cut grass un­til there’s a mower grum­bling in your neigh­bour­hood in spring.

If you’ve ever been to the desert, you’ll for­get the best parts of that, too: not that it’s hot, nor that it’s dry. What you’ll lose is the sense of how sere it ac­tu­ally is and how that feels on your skin, of how the sage hun­kers down for sur­vival and cov­ers the land as far as you can see – and you’ll for­get the smell of the sage as well. The full ex­pe­ri­ence of dust as dry as flour; the way it cakes in the cor­ner of your eyes, the way it fills your nos­trils and changes all other smells.

In­side your work­place, you for­get out­side. You for­get pine saw­dust in a work­shop and split spruce on the wood­pile. The feel of a beach stone be­tween your thumb and fore­fin­ger.

And here it is, June.

I know there’s no hold­ing it all. I know that memory works in re­verse.

You can’t man­u­fac­ture the smell of fresh mint or crushed thyme by just think­ing of them – or if you can, you’ve got a bet­ter memory than me – any more than you can hum one song while lis­ten­ing to another.

When it comes to smell and memory, one is the key, the other the lock. I know that the smell of saf­fron will trans­port me – I don’t know to where, un­til I smell it.

But as I said, here it is June, that time when the leaves are new and bright green, when they haven’t faded through the heat of sum­mer.

And did I men­tion? You re­mem­ber the things you should for­get.

This isn’t re­ally a rid­dle; more than any­thing else, I think it’s just that the best things are the things we ex­pe­ri­ence through our senses, rather than the score­card we build in the more lad­dered and or­dered parts of our em­pir­i­cal brains. Re­crim­i­na­tions, re­venge, be­trayal – ev­ery slight you’ve ever faced is piled up there in your head, and you could draw them out at will, count­ing each on your fin­gers as you went, run­ning out of fin­gers and start­ing over again. There isn’t time.

I don’t want to re­mem­ber why I was an­gry at some­one. There is no point. Blame may the stuff and pith and sub­stance of hu­man­ity, but it will never fill you with joy.

I’d rather be able to pull up the smell of freshly turned soil at will than enu­mer­ate the rea­sons for buried re­sent­ments.

So, lis­ten to the sound of some­one in a big pas­ture shout­ing to a horse, and the sound of that sin­gle voice echo­ing back in the cool of morn­ing. Set­tle down on a gravel beach and pick through the peb­bles for beach glass; find a flat stone to skip, or else to turn on edge and throw al­most straight up into the air so it cuts the sur­face of the wa­ter with the splash­less rip that we used to call “slit­ting the Devil’s throat.”

Smell kelp, eat mus­sels – mar­vel at the notes of sim­i­lar­ity they share.

Find a place this year to swim naked in a river. Learn again the way your breath stops it­self when your face hit cold wa­ter. See a full moon rise in some part of this coun­try where street­lights don’t stain the sky.

And here it is, June.

Get the hell out there and get your hands dirty, your sneak­ers wet, and your senses full.

“I’d rather be able to pull up the smell of freshly turned soil at will than enu­mer­ate the rea­sons for buried re­sent­ments.”

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