Thursday, July 01, 2010

Moving Polaroids: The In Between is Mine

"They may look grown up," she continued, "but it's just a disguise. It's just the clay of time. Men and women are still children deep in their hearts. They still would like to jump and play, but that heavy clay won't let them. They'd like to shake off every chain the world's put on them, take off their watches and neckties and Sunday shoes and return naked to the swimming hole, if just for a day. They'd like to feel free, and know that there's a momma and daddy at home who'll take care of things and love them no matter what. Even behind the face of the meanest man in the world is a scared little boy trying to wedge himself into a corner where he can't be hurt." She put aside her papers and folded her hands on her desk. "I have seen plenty of boys grow into men, Cory, and I want to say one word to you. Remember."

"Remember? Remember what?"
"Everything," she said.

excerpt, Robert R. McCammon's Boy's Life

In January of 2009 I started a series of blogs titled "Moving Polaroids". The idea began because, at heart, I'm a nostalgic bastard beyond belief. I hold onto little things - an origami swan made by a friend. A river pebble from a lake. The ticket stubs of a movie.

I don't live in the past, but I relish great memories. I remember.

Right now I'm reading McCammon's Boy's Life. I'd read a bunch of McCammon years ago, but somehow I'd missed this one. That was rectified when one of my good friends, Ron Dickie purchased it for me during one of his frequent visits to the States.

It's one of the most poignant and beautifully written books I've ever read. It captures - perfectly - the mindset of a young boy growing up and seeing drama and mystery and adventure in his hometown. And magic. So much magic.

The passage I quoted above struck me when I read it and has hung with me long enough to prompt the relaunch of Moving Polaroids today. It kept pestering me because I wondered about the truth of his words.

As a child, I felt that magic. The farm I grew up on had rock caves and old dump piles and rusted out carcasses of cars hidden in the woods from the previous owners. There were new crops and livestock each year and old ghosts that stayed around to keep watch over things.

I reveled in all of it.

But the clay of time... yeah, about that.

As I've grown older, the clay of time seems to have taken hold. Mortgage payments, car problems, relationships, children, running a business, responsibilities...

Yes. Sad to admit, but I believe McCammon's words may be true.

I've been thinking about this blog for the past few days and as I write this, I'm still not sure what my answer is going to be to my own question. I'm not sure of the last time I felt magic.

Oh, I'm not talking about synchronicity. I witness that all the time. I see things line up the way they're supposed to be... or don't... and I can usually see why the tide flows either way.

I've witnessed magic... been in the presence of it. I see it through my children's eyes. Watched the beauty of it when my children were born. I see it in the imagination of lots of my friends and in that regard, I suppose I have it within myself as well. After all, magic is what kicks the muse in the ass and gets writers to create worlds and weave stories and plant the beans that grow above the clouds for our readers.

I guess one of the reasons I am so nostalgic is that I do remember. If I close my eyes I can recall the smell of fresh cut hay in the barn. I can see the golden beams of dust after corn's been harvested and loaded into the corn crib. I remember how cold the water of our springhouse used to be and the little orange and black salamanders that used to live in it's shallow depths.

Yes, I remember.

But magic as an adult? I don't know. I suppose I could say it was the day I saw orbs playing over a cemetery or the circle where the priest is buried that even I won't walk near after dark.

But I don't know. I suppose as we grow older, it's our definition of magic that changes. The veil of childhood lifts and we have new fears and different responsibilities that alter our perception and change our view. The thing I've been considering though is the clay of time. If that metaphor holds true, then clay is malleable and if it's malleable... we can form it as we see fit. We can get it back. We can catch magic when we want to.

At least, I sure hope so.


I've been considering it for days now, trying to figure it out, and I think the last time I felt magic as a child I was out hunting with my father in the dead of night.

When I was a kid, my father saved up his money and sent away for a Kentucky pedigreed Black and Tan 'coon hunting hound. Times were tight and I guess my father thought a hobby that could result in making money from hides (as well as keeping the raccoons from eating the chickens on the farm) wouldn't be a bad thing at all. A few days later, "Joe" arrived by train and my father went to pick him up. He'd been shipped in a large wooden crate and apparently, hadn't eaten for quite some time as his ribs were showing.

After my father fattened him up a bit, we started going hunting at night. There's something very cool about wandering around in the woods at night with the moon and stars overhead, waiting to hear the staccato barks of a hound tracking a scent. At night, you hear very different sounds than during the day. The creeks look like silver mercury flowing and burbling through the woods. Owls hoot and bats squeal and in the distance you hear branches snap and wonder what's the cause behind it. It's very different than hunting during the day.

On this particular night, my father and I had trekked all over hell and back. Joe had trailed and lost a few times and we were about done for the night due to a vigorous journey through a briar patch. It was time to head back home, grab a bowl of Lucky Charms and watch The Twilight Zone (this came to be a nightly habit for my father and I after our nighttime journeys). We had circled back around from the river and were headed back toward Valley Mill Road when we stepped free of a patch of high weeds and saw up ahead of us, about twenty feet away, a long line of glowing light.

We stopped and stared and the hackles on the back of my neck rose up. The lights weren't as bright as fog lights or anything - they were low to the ground and stretched out in a ragged horizontal line of yellow-green.

"What the hell is that?" My father asked.

I had no answers to offer, but my mind raced with the possibilities. I'd seen Tales from the Dark Side often enough. I'd stayed up late watching Rod Serling preach about stepping into alternate dimensions. I expected this was alien goo left in the woods and the creatures had already marched off to start world domination. Maybe it was a plant that had gained awareness and discovered how to bait humans in before it ate them.

This was great. I grinned to myself and my father and I walked ahead.

The closer we got, the brighter the glow became, until we were right up on it. A fallen tree was stretched out on the ground and all along its length was phosphorescent wood.

"I've never seen shit like this before." My father is a man of brevity. He bent down and turned his head lamp onto it and it looked just like normal wood again until he shut the light off and it was back to martian material. We reached out and touched it. The wood wasn't damp or moist at all. It was dry and crumbly.

I broke off a small handful and stuffed it into my jacket pocket and by that time, Joe had come wandering back to us. My father leashed him and we headed on home for the night.

I kept that wood in my room for a few days and each night the glow got dimmer and dimmer until it finally died out completely.

It wasn't until years later that I understood it was phosphorescent lichen or moss that my father and I had come across. But for a brief moment, I had something from another planet in my grasp.

I had magic in my hands and it felt amazing.

Back in the saddle and scribbling away. Yes, the in between is mine.


Anonymous Kelli Owen (Dunlap) said...

The sorrow grows bigger when the sorrow's denied...

11:14 AM  
Blogger Skip Novak said...

Brilliant story and amazing telling of it. I can completely understand the need to reach back into the fog banks of your memories in an attempt to recapture the lost magic of youth and the wonder of the adventures of a summers day can bring to your life.

Never give up the quest for the magic!

7:00 PM  

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