An unexpected interruption here today, not working and time to think and time on my mind, so here are some words and pictures on the subject.
Flower · Below is a nice bright yellow flower from the UBC Botanical Garden. It’s dead and long, long gone.
I know it’s dead because this picture is slide #31 of some three thousand that I’ve just started scanning my way through. They’re numbered chronologically starting in 1981, although I didn’t really start shooting heavily till 1983. If you weren’t already in a mood to ponder the passage of time, scanning a few hundred decades-old slides can get you there quick.
That little flower’s lifespan is a flash hardly visible in the timescape of anyone past 40; yet the sun bouncing off it disordered some silver inorganics in film, and these decades later the bright scanner light excited some CCD cells, and now it’s on your screen, and who can predict how long this flower’s shadow’s shadow’s shadow will live, somewhere in whatever the Net becomes?
Cat · Below (slide #20 by the way) is a cat named Wolfgang Amadeus. He died in 1995.
What happened was, I and my then-wife visited my parents in Lebanon in 1975 and went out for a walk on the AUB campus where they lived; a skinny elegant half-grown black cat strolled up to us and then followed us home. My soft-hearted Dad fed her, so she skipped off and came back with her three kittens. She was called Angela (after Ms Davis, whom she resembled remarkably) and the kittens were named after Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven and of course called Wolfie, Yo-yo, and Lu-lu. One died young, the other in the war there, and Wolfie, as a war-evacuee, ended up in Saskatchewan. Eventually we inherited him and he lived around Canada: Guelph, Toronto, Vancouver, Waterloo, and again Vancouver, for twenty years nearly, despite all sorts of medical problems and lots of surgery. A city cat, he was unimpressed by traffic; in Toronto we lived right on Queen Street, and he crossed it regularly.
Speaking of my ex-wife Cath, some of these photos might be by her, who can remember who shot what twenty years ago? Our marriage lasted longer than that yellow flower but not as long as Wolfie.
I bet that if this picture gets accidental Net immortality, the story of Wolfie’s remarkable cat life will peel off before too long, because who’d care if you didn’t know him?
Dad · That’s my Dad below, and he’s gone too.
We’re back in the UBC Botanical Garden, and Dad, an Agriculture Ph.D. (who would have been happiest as a botanist but ended up as a Plant Breeder and Forage Crops guy), is engrossed in photographing a Gunnera, which looks like the world’s largest rhubarb (from slide #33).
He loved photography; as a University professor and finally in his late thirties making some money, his first big splurge was a decent Pentax SLR, pretty hot stuff in the sixties. He took photos of flowers in extreme close-up when that was a really unconventional thing to do. He’s left behind a few thousand little pieces of visual memory which I’ll eventually wrangle through the scanner—some of them are great, better than any of mine—and maybe some of them will outlive us all.
Dad’s life stretched back into the Depression-year prairies, he would talk of lying awake in bed on frosty winter nights and listening for an hour to a single train approaching, whistling at each crossing, and then fading away; it was quiet then. Too quiet; he told me about how great it was when the first radio came in and there was something to do after dinner if you were too tired to read. Before electrification, it had a big lead-acid battery that you had to take to town to get charged.
He made it off the farm and made a good living trying to help the world learn how to feed itself better. He made it into his seventh decade before the Alzheimer’s got him; his ashes are now scattered around a tree on the family farm southeast of Edmonton.
I’ve made a bit of an effort to keep Dad’s memory alive with the Web’s help, and I have some hope that I’ll manage the trick as long as I can stay this side of the grave; but I doubt much longer than that.
Small Bright Tree · This photo (#48) like the others here is from sometime pre-1985: a small tree catching a sunbeam that made it into the dark heart of the rainforest. That tree may yet live, and may survive me.
In Vladimir Nabokov’s Ada (for my money his best ever), the protagonist labours on a philosophical work called The Texture of Time; I don’t remember much about it except his description of how to perceive time directly, in the spaces between the beats of slow rhythms.
I don’t know about time’s texture myself, but we’re all for better or worse stuck in it. But not, perhaps, some of the things we put on the Net.