We get out of the car at the end of a long winding road having driven slowly through a pure white laneway, unspoiled by any other tracks. The little blue Citróen had slithered gracelessly around a few narrow turns, and it was with a slight sense of relief that we exited into a light snowfall surrounded by the skeletal figures of low trees and a bridge crossing a narrow but deep river ravine.
There is a good chance that I wasn’t listening or paying attention to our plans – that was pretty standard behaviour for me. Even to this day when I am masquerading as a fully functional adult, all too often I notice someones’ expectant expression, indicating that I am supposed to say something relevant, or demonstrate the appropriate response. So I had no real idea why we were in this place, or where it was, or what it was called. So I pursued my normal strategy of feigned insouciance, and we set off, the five of us crossing the bridge.
There is a series of vignettes in all of this, snapshots of moments that resonate with feeling, rather than detail. Try as I might, it seems impossible to pierce that haze of memory and all that is left are these little set pieces, and a sense of yearning. The impossible white of the snow, the way the rock looked and felt as we crossed the little chasm, the distant hills and mountains across what were presumably fields. little forest of birch trees that grew in a grid that sheltered the ground beneath to be almost entirely free of snowfall.
All these things just seemed to happen to me. I remember watching the Old Man stomping on the ice on the stream and crashing through. I was recording it on a camcorder we had borrowed from a friend. We laughed and talked about sending the video to the German equivalent of ‘Funniest Home Videos.’ That tape is somewhere perhaps, a vision of data that would bolster the sadness of the imperfection of my memory. ‘Everything I do I rush through, so I can do something else’ is the line from Cemetary Nights and my sense of loss is so profound that it aches. I lost my father, but that served mostly to remind me that I lost that time, and that I am still losing time.
My regrets seem so petty – I lived and still do live an active life. I commune with nature, our holidays are predicated upon hikes, beaches, mountains. I take my babies out into the world, museums, bushwalks, mushroom picking. But time is finite, and memory is flawed. I am proud of the life I lived, for the most part, but wish I could at least remember it better, if not be able to revisit that time.
So what now? Losing my father reminded me that my youth was lost too – that somewhere along the line I had to grow up. But the fields and hills and mountains will still be there. The snow will fall, the birch trees will grow. We will walk there again, in connections new, that honour the old.