Don’t take a picture, it’ll last longer

Burst of inspiration, I guess?

This is my latest column, but I think it deserves to stand on its own here without the column treatment.

I wrote it off absolute spontaneous inspiration on Thursday night, faster and more from-the-heart than maybe anything I’ve ever put out.

I hope you like it.

I took a brief reprieve from work on Thursday night to step out of the office in search of a quick dinner.

As I left the building, force of habit prompted me to warily lift my face to the heavens to see what exactly the weather was doing. You won’t be surprised to learn that this is a tic I’ve picked up since I moved to Maine’s somewhat unpredictable conditions.

I was instantly glad I did, because I was struck by the sight of the tail-end of one of the more beautiful sunsets I’ve seen in some time.

My first instinct, as a tech-savvy 28-year-old in the year 2014, was to duck back inside to my desk, grab my phone and see if I could snap off a couple of half-decent photos.

Even though I was already imagining how many “likes” that a visual representation of said sunset would rack up on Facebook, I fought the urge and continued on my walk, reasoning, “It’ll still be this attractive in seven minutes when you come back, so grab a snap then.”

As I walked, I caught glimpses off to the west between trees and buildings. The deep oranges and purples, in hues that perhaps only my columnist co-worker Dana Wilde of Backyard Naturalist fame could adequately describe to you, tinted the heavy clouds that were left over from the storms that gave us a good drenching on Wednesday night, but towards the horizon the sky was bright yellow and cloud-free.

And contrary to my previous instinct, it struck me as one of those moments that would be better off living on in my memory than buried in my phone’s memory, rarely to be looked at again. And it will, too: by the time I got back to the office, the bright colors were gone.

Since I moved here eight months ago, as a wide-eyed Australian kid who was familiar with the U.S. but not Maine, I’ve experienced so many new things worthy of recording in one way or another.

Perhaps you remember that brutal winter we had — or perhaps you don’t, since it’s best not to dwell on such awful things. While I was awaiting licensing and car ownership, I spent a good six or seven weeks walking Sewall and Capitol streets in Augusta on my way to the gym, the grocery store and the bar.

There’s a row of hedges along Sewall Street running between the sidewalk and the State House parking lot. They were obviously bereft of leaves during January but, for weeks after that ice storm, the bare twigs were individually covered in ice. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen (excuse the pun) in nature.

I tried in vain many times to capture it accurately with my phone camera. I’m not any sort of photographer, not by any means, but I didn’t think I could adequately explain the sight to friends back home without pictorial evidence.

I ended up giving up, realizing that I wouldn’t be able to do it justice.

The same went for many sights. There’s a particular driveway on Sewall Street that I would edge my way across twice a day, completely gobsmacked at its surface. Evidently the drainage wasn’t great, because any snow that melted just pooled, and when it refroze it looked for all intents and purposes like an ice-skating rink.

In eight short months I’ve gone from wondering how the residents managed to get from car to house without injury to wondering if I’d imagined the whole thing.

The total about-face change is another thing that may only live on in my memory.

Last weekend I walked up Sewall Street for the first time in months, in the wee hours of the morning, and passed a house that I’d often looked at on my treks through the tundra.

On the porch there are easily four or five snow shovels, all leaning together, and every time I shuffled by in January I thought to myself, “I wonder if they’d mind if I borrowed one of those.”

I ended up buying my own, but by the time I’d worked out how best to wield it, there was nothing left to shovel and I wondered whether that $20 would’ve been better spent on sunscreen.

Looking at those shovels now, in early August on a casual stroll rather than a painstaking slip-and-slide, I could hardly believe I was in the same neighborhood. The greens of spring and the brilliant blue skies of summer similarly catch me by surprise.

When I made the decision in the spring that I was going to write a book about this first year of immigration, and began drafting a list of rough chapters, I knew that I wanted to paint a picture of my new home of Augusta. It wasn’t something that I felt prepared to do then, or even now, because I’m still finding unexplored territory on regular basis.

Realistically, I won’t spend the rest of my life in Augusta, or perhaps even in Maine. Somewhat to my detriment, I’m a flighty and ambitious 28-year-old with a list of things he wants to achieve, personally and professionally, before settling down for good.

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to leave central Maine then return to visit a year, or two years, or five years, later, and see how things have changed.

I could drive around all week and take dozens upon dozens of photos to capture the streets I drive down, and the places I frequent, in my daily life.

But, as unexpectedly spotting a sunset made me realize, those pictures wouldn’t come close to illustrating the intangible aspects of what it’s been like to unpack my bags here. A photo of a bar or a gym or the basketball court on Bangor Street won’t sum up the memories of the time I spent there.

And I think I’m starting to be OK with that. Physical records can’t do justice to everything, so why not just enjoy it?


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