Favorites: July 2008 Archives

The Memory Trees

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The summer of my 8th birthday my family took a road trip from our home in Michigan to Seattle and back. My brother was coming up on 11, and we were both avid readers. Our parents chastised us repeatedly for having our noses stuck in books while we drove through thousands of miles of beautiful scenery.

My brother remembers more of the trip than I do. I remember squirrels who took peanuts from our fingers at Yellowstone National Park, and a waitress there who remembered our order without writing anything down. Somewhere in the Midwest we stopped to see a building made entirely of corn cobs, which was one of the highlights of the trip, for me. I remember being outraged by the unfairness when my step-great-grandfather took my father and my brother deep sea fishing and wouldn't take me because I was a girl. (Just one of many such incidents, but "Seeds of Outrage" isn't the title of this post.) I had to stay behind and help my mother and step-great-grandmother (yes, both great-grandparents were "step") bake a strawberry pie. I've never since eaten strawberry pie. Oh, and we left my brother behind at a gas station once. We didn't get far before his absence was noticed and we turned back. My parents (who never lived it down) asked why I didn't say anything when we pulled out and he wasn't there. Well, I was reading, wasn't I?

I have only one memory of scenery. I know I glanced out the window every time either parent complained that we were missing all the beauty around us, but only once did the scenery get through to my 8-year-old soul. I put the book down and stared out at dense forest on either side of the road; forest of tall dark evergreen trees. The memory has taken on a surreal quality in the years since because I never knew where we were when I saw those trees and I never saw any forest quite like it again. In the ensuing years I've seen quite a bit of the country and I've mentally compared every forest with "the memory forest" and never found a match. Nothing on the east coast is anything like it; it was solid evergreens. I've compared the forests in Northern Arizona, where the trees are not as dense, and Northern California, where the trees are not as straight, and South Dakota, where the trees are...just not the same... with the memory and not found the scene. I'd begun to assume the forest no longer existed; that it had been leveled to make way for "progress".

This past weekend I found the trees. When I was eight we drove from Michigan to Seattle along a northerly route, which meant we drove through the Northern Cascades. This past weekend I drove about 80 miles east of Seattle into the Cascades and I thought "this is it." I didn't find the exact scene but I found the trees. I saw the same kind of forest: dense and dark but not oppressive, a forest of perfectly straight, majestic, evergreen trees.

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