Railroad track ephemera: found composition
Anchorage, Alaska – jl
Breakup in Alaska occurs when the temperatures rise and ice-bound rivers and lakes began to break apart. Water begins to flow. When we lived along the Yentna River I recall standing outside listening to the sounds of breakup: icicles dripping from eaves, soft snow sloughing from spruce boughs, slabs of ice groaning and grinding, and the sound of ice crashing against ice. The entire river carried the sound of spring in its cold current. That sound of ice breaking free always reminded me of a vast dinner party – of china cups settling onto china saucers, of ice sloshing in tall glasses, and of thousands of pieces of silverware striking cup rims and dinner plates. The clatter and glass-chime sounds of breakup signified the end of another long winter.
When my friends and I were children breakup was a treasure hunt. Toys long buried beneath snow banks were finally revealed. Long lost mittens and scarves showed up unexpectedly. Old leaves and litter appeared. Rusted bits and pieces emerged like the mysterious fragments of unknown machines and tools. These unknown objects were the real treasure as we scavenged. There were bits of paper, rendered illegible, that suggested secret messages. Corroded metal coils and occasionally radio parts and tires with no tread counted as loot. Every one of these items were carted into tree forts or cached under canopies of spruce trees. One of the tread-less tires ended up under my bed. The idea was that it was a useful shelf of sorts for stowing unusual rocks, collected feathers and other items borne on the crest of breakup.
The ending of winter, though it often occurred through a series of freezes and thaws, always felt sudden and with that suddenness there came a sense of urgent buoyancy. Spring lasted for a quick muddy beat and then summer would be ours.
Sifting Through the Past
Those objects and memories are ephemera. Ephemera can be seen as the temporary remnants of our lives: ticket stubs, photographs, old letters, a perfume sample, a curl of ribbon. The importance of ephemera by definition is short-lived. And yet, there is something fascinating about the frail bones and faded paper of the past.
I find clues and hints and ideas among the ephemera.
Within these cluttered collections it is possible to sift out bits and pieces of a larger narrative. As I turn a corner with my newest novel these seemingly transitory fragments inform me of a deeper story. These small details are a mosaic – a mosaic of torn pages, a poorly developed picture, a canceled check, a handful of loose beads.
For me, the construction of the story has a lot to do with re-claimed nails, re-purposed wood, and unearthed words. When I really lean in to tell Lou’s story I am frightened and rapt at the same time.
And so I find myself once again sluicing through muck and leaf rot and boxes of old photographs. The default response in the back of my mind is to skip around the deeper story. The impulse in my fingertips is to dig deeper.
A photograph, marred by time, makes me wonder:
Who is this? What is he doing in Fireweed Crossing?