The Senses Carry Us Back

Dad and I are parked at the Ace Hardware in SmallTown, NC and at first I don’t know where the smell is coming from. Then I look to my right and see it: An oversized Ford F350 with dualies, a truck box, tinted windows, and most important, a diesel engine. The driver left the vehicle running in the parking lot, fumes spilling from the tailpipe and not a gust of wind to carry them away.

But my mind is carried away all the same, back into the rolled ribbons of memory and time, back, back to those middle and high school years of downhill skiing and snowboarding, where it seemed like we waited for hours to get into the parking lot of Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood. It never mattered if it was snowing—only how fast we could get there, unload, wrestle our way through the rental lines and, finally, that cold cutting crisp air coming at us as we were vaulted up on the lifts.

Of course we felt half-drugged by the time we got there, heads pounding from the diesel fumes in the parking lot lines, the added pressure of elevation and cold, and that fast we could float on past the blue runs and on to bolder heights and steeper turns, our confidence inflated from this oddly mixed inebriation.

They say our earliest memories are primarily sensorial, and that in order to tap back into them with any measure of vividness, it may take a serendipitous trigger, such as the olfactory experience of smelling the diesel fumes, to get there. It feels like a long time since I’ve “written.” Once I get through my current freelance essay, I must begin the slow and steady work of pairing down my stories of adolescence from 10-20 pages prose ramblings into tight, moving, lyrical essays. There is the question of how to cut away, then how to find the windows in what remains. From there, how to let the windows open and expand the narrative arc—all without compromising rhythm and voice. After that remains the stories that have yet to be written.

‘Tis the season.

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