Memory, Emerson, and the Speed of Time

Yesterday, I rode my single speed up onto North Table Mountain, just outside of Golden, on a new trail, one I hadn’t ridden before. The steep grade made turning the pedals over almost impossible. Slow I went, stopping a few times to regather myself and suck wind.

I am well familiar with the pain of severe oxygen debt, climbing slowly, trying to keep the crest of the hill in sight. (All those years of running cross country have served me well). Both in the real, physical sense, and metaphorically, too.

I am also well aware that life seems to have sped up and our attempts to capture time–scenes, images, happenings–has become for many an imperative process. Perhaps that is due to technology: it has both sped up our sense of living, and it has given us new and simple ways of capturing specific points of time (e.g. this very blog). It has also given us a new frame in which to tell our stories to others in intimate ways–and yet, oddly, very anonymous ways. I am not sitting at the dinner table or in the living room entertaining my family and cohorts with the story of my ride and the recent thing I read lately. I am alone, typing at the kitchen table. I am both alone and very close to you–to everyone–offering a glimpse of my yesterday and my thoughts about it.

Which, perhaps awkwardly, brings me to this passage from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay, “Memory”:

“In solitude, in darkness, we tread over again the sunny walks of youth; confined now in populous streets you behold again the green fields, the shadows of the gray birches; by the solitary river hear again the joyful voices of early companions, and vibrate anew to the tenderness and dainty music of the poetry your boyhood fed upon. At this hour the stream is flowing, though you hear it not; the plants are still drinking their accustomed life and repaying it with their beautiful forms. But you need not wander thither. It flows for you, and they grow for you, in the returning images of former summers…. You may perish out of your senses, but not out of your memory or imagination.”

It is, all of it, always with you. It was all there, with me, as I grunted to the top of the mountain, and when I saw the deer staring back at me, and when I flowed back down the hill to some singletrack, and when I returned to the car to drive home, and when I entered the house and was welcomed by my wife and daughters, all warm and beautiful.


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