Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Sibling Assignment #175: The Past Living in Me Along Sligo Creek

I gave this latest sibling assignment:  "Write a piece of creative non-fiction that ends with this sentence (or a slight variation): 'Suddenly, bittersweet vellichor filled my enire being.'"

I made one rule: we couldn't write about bookstores.

The word "vellichor" is defined at the end of this post.

Christy wrote about her spurts of activity and her fallow periods. It's the art of waxing and waning, here.  In her piece, Carol wonders how she could possibly ever find the time to read all the books she'd like to read, here.

Since arriving in the Washington, D.C. area back in July, 2014, I have spent more time alone than at any other time in my life.

I like this.

Most of all, I enjoy seeking out green spaces in Washington, D. C., Maryland, and Virginia to walk, take pictures, and pay attention to whatever is happening in my mind.

As you can see in the picture below, these walks in green spaces are not always tranquil because green spaces in D. C. or Silver Spring or other suburbs are skirted by busy streets with a lot of traffic and horns honking.  Even when I'm out of earshot of these busy streets, often the quiet of the woods or the tranquil rushing of streams is accompanied by faraway sirens and police or media helicopters hovering over a crime scene in some part of the city, sometimes not far away.

Sligo Creek Park and Sligo Creek Parkway

 I remember when I took this picture how much I looked forward to following this path into the shade, into the unknown -- in fact, I looked forward to the moment Dante describes in the opening of his Inferno:  "I found myself in a forest dark/For the straightforward pathway had been lost."

The straightforward pathway I lost when I ventured into Sligo Creek Park was the straight path of time, if there is such a thing.  Often we act as if time is moving on a straightforward pathway to the future and that as we move forward on this pathway the past recedes, not to be looked back upon.  We are to keep our eyes steady, looking straight ahead.

I see the worth of this.  I do all I can not to live in the past.

But, I'm keenly aware that although I try not to live in the past, the past is always living in me.

On this day, Wednesday, October 14, 2014, something about the Sligo Creek park's pathway seemed to invite my past into this October afternoon.

Was it the sight of the old stone bridges?

Stone Bridge Over Sligo Creek

Or somehow did this tree, bridging the two Sligo Creek banks somehow invite the past to stroll with me in Sligo Creek Park?

I don't know what the trigger was, but suddenly former girlfriends joined me as I walked along Sligo Creek.

I was walking along the trail, but I was also slow dancing in the KHS cafeteria with Marilyn (I'm using all pseudonyms) on Prom Night, smelling lilacs -- it must have been a soap -- and I could still taste the bleu cheese from the salad before dinner at Duff's in Rose Lake.

Suddenly I was in Coeur d'Alene sitting at a dining table with Kathy, singing along with Cat Stevens' Tea for the Tillerman album and working together to write a letter to Walter Scott's "Personality Parade". We'd heard a rumor that Cat Stevens was dead. We thought surely Walter Scott would publish our letter and give us the straight scoop. He never did. I don't know if Kathy and I were still together when we learned Cat Stevens was still alive -- it was at least four years later that I learned about his conversion to Islam. We never knew that together. That day, we made out.  I hadn't shaved. Cathy's sister later told Cathy that she knew we'd been making out because of the whisker burns on Cathy's face.  I'd never heard of whisker burns before I knew Cathy.

I didn't know when we moved to Washington, D. C. that this area was so wooded. I didn't know the trees would become more than trees to me. On this day in Sligo Creek Park, Orlando's words in As You Like It popped to mind: "these trees shall be my books."

Somehow, this multitude of trees at Sligo Park became like books holding stories about my girlfriends from the past. I suddenly realized that I hadn't read many of these books and never would.

In breaking up, these girlfriends and I left many stories about our lives untold to each other. I realized that day that in the same way that unread books leave me feeling a slight ache of melancholy that I'll never know what is inside them, so these trees which suddenly were my past, my past living in me along Sligo Creek as a multitude of memories of past girlfriends -- and then memories of other friends -- and then of past students -- and finally all those in my life I've known for some amount of time, but don't know any longer, are all like unread books, holding countless stories and insights that I will never know and that I never sought to know.

It was then, standing on a bridge crossing Sligo Creek, dry leaves scattered at my feet, that suddenly bittersweet vellichor filled my entire being.

from The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

n. the strange wistfulness of used bookstores,
which are somehow infused with the passage of
time—filled with thousands of old books
you’ll never have time to read,
each of which is itself locked
in its own era, bound and dated and papered over
like an old room the author abandoned years ago,
a hidden annex littered with thoughts


Nita Jo said...

This took me back to some of my unread, unexplored moments. I'm filled with my own bittersweet vellichor, which I'd never even heard of until your sibling challenge. Your words to got me, which is not always easy to do. Well done!

Rachel said...

First, what a delightful word. I have that feeling when I wander through old junk yards. One of my uncles has some land with a big barn and surrounded by a multitude of old rusty "car skeletons". And I always get that wistful feeling when walk through there looking at them and wondering what kind of lives they had before they came to rest there. I like to think of them shiny and new in the 30's and 40's, and wonder about the people who drove them and the places they went. But of course I will never really know.

Second, you have inspired me to start my own Sibling writing assignments. :) My 4 sisters and 2 brothers have all agreed to start doing these with me! We are working on our first assignment, and I can't wait to see what everyone writes!! :)