Books and Landscapes
There are some times when the book you are traveling with becomes as imprinted upon memory as the features and sensations of the physical place itself. A coincidental atlas, and something as simple as recounting an idea or a quote from the book brings with it a bouquet of sensations of the place, or where imagining the smells and air and feelings of an environment evoke a circumstance or a memory of the text. The tw become inseparable, a chance occurrence, a unique re-coordinating of the map, as only personal interpretation can provide.
For a while, I refused to carry books with me, feeling that it would steal me away from the landscape, or steal the landscape away from me.
Then came the bicycle trip through the northern California redwoods, or more precisely, the rainstorms that swooped in when I found myself in the middle of the redwoods, too stubborn to change my route, too wussy to ride through the rain. At a Crescent City makeshift thriftstore, that was more accurately a garage full of junk, I found a copy of Pamela Des Barres' I'm With The Band for 10 cents. To this day, anytime I think of the bike trip I think of abandoned buildings where orange streetlights reflected in through rain-soaked windows and fell across the floor where I lay in my sleeping bag with the book, just as when I think of the book, I remember the way the dusk light faded through the forests of Marin, and I strained to read the words before finally putting the book down and falling asleep to the noises of the forest at dark.
Floating down the Sacramento River, California's Central Valley sun scorching our skin, we had no idea what to expect, no one I had spoken to had ever heard of anyone floating the distance between Redding and Sacramento before. All we knew was that the river floated through both towns, if we got on it in one, we'd end up in the other at some point, right? It took 11 days of mostly floating lazily, occasionally stopping to climb aboard abandoned houseboats in the river, or to skip stones from the shore, or to pull walnuts from the trees that grew to the river's edge. In the raft we listened to the thrift store cassettes we had gotten the day before we had left Redding, mostly bad late 80's contemporary rock, like Jon Secada and Alannah Myles, or read from the books that we had looted from the chainstore back in Redding. Ellen Meloy's Eating Stone - a story of a desert woman traveling to the hottest and most desolate reaches of the Mojave desert and research halls, heat and stone, to track Bighorn Sheep populations, a disappearing wildness within a disappearing landscape. I would sigh and look up and see the cliffs and rocks and trees of the river drift by.
In that pirate town on the Oregon Coast, I read Eduardo Galeano's Days And Nights Of Love And War. It was stories as tragic and ecstatic and ephemeral as the river and ocean tides and the forest I walked through each day. Stories as sordid as any town or civilization built upon the submission of land and people. History has parallel tragedies and wealth beyond words that Galeano has been able to capture.
A Burlington Northern train barreling across the grassy plains of North Dakota, dirt roads and grain elevators the only signs of life. I sat on the porch of the double-stack reading the beat-up copy of Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine that Samcore had given to me in Portland. Youth and nostalgia simultaneously, the same feeling one gets as a stowaway on a train travelling through fields and plains on its trip half-way across the country. Later in Minneapolis we spent the humid afternoons in the second floor of her house, all the windows open to the rooftops of the surrounding brick buildings, lying half-naked in bed taking turns reading the last few chapters to each other. I've re-read it again since then, and the chapters are still nostalgic and colored by a hue of slowed time and youthful recollection, but the book has never had the same magic as it had on a freight train or in a lover's bed in a new city.
The books become more than books, the way even a blurred photograph is more than resin on paper, and years later, just glancing at it can transport you back in time, a cue to a certain time and place.