Thursday 23 June 2011

Water in a Cupped Hand

When I was a kid I was filled with dread by the golden hour – at sunrise and sunset when the atmosphere filters the sun orange. This is the hour photographers milk for its amber colouring and dramatic shadows, the moments they try to preserve forever: when the sky turns fiery and everyone looks like they have one foot in Heaven.

I was bothered because it was fleeting. Even as you try to drink it in it fades. Twilight stalks dusk as day stalks dawn.

That is to say I was impressed not only by a sense of beauty but also a sense of time. As a child the golden hour made me feel uncomfortably mortal. Trying to live inside that golden place was like trying to keep water in your cupped hand – so much sparkling wonder in such a rush to be gone without a trace.

This is why I wear copper-coloured sunglasses now. I can make the golden hour stay as long as I like.

The world is rendered magical in this way twice each day, on my way into and out of the city. In the summer I eschew the multi-lane freeway in favour of country roads – the difference in travel time is more than made up by the difference in scenery. Rolling green hills and the dappled shade of trees and the chuckle of rivers always beats asphalt and brake lights and reflective signs (except for when the setting sun strikes the signage just right so that it appears iridescent – that’s nifty).

I draw into the city and the signs multiply. Every surface has something to say. I work by the airport where the ramps twist and loop around each other like the matte-painting background of a science-fiction movie – the inter-terminal monorail glides by in the foreground while contrails cross overhead, the sky rumbling and gasping with the passage of impossible metal birds. When I come to work I feel like I’m gliding in for a landing on Coruscant.

I am comforted by a glimpse of that ridiculous sky-fucking tower at the lakefront. I’ve grown up with it always in sight, looming overhead or hazy in the distance, a permanent marker for orientation. I don’t live in the city anymore but that obscene concrete finger still says “home” to me.

When I leave in the afternoon the city peels away in stages until I’m driving alone and I can hear the birdsong again. There’s a road I take that dips through a small but steep valley, and I always slow down there and crank open all the windows because the valley smells divine: a rich, green, musky portfolio of perfumes that is slightly different each day.

I pass sheep, cows and horses ranging in the fields. I pass great skeletal metal machines arched over the crops, peeing water as they slowly roll ahead, widely separated headlights staring out like calm, unblinking eyes. A tractor chugs along in the ditch at the head of a gently roiling plume of dust, clods of manure flying from its giant tires.

All of it is golden, according to me.

I don’t listen to music in the car. I listen to real life. Tires whining on the pavement, engine growls Dopplering by, wind scattering the leaves. In this way I come to think that the golden hour is every hour, if you’re paying attention. There’s always a beautiful moment in the midst of being lost.

There’s a little robot in my dashboard who warns me if I’m about to miss my turn. Which I often am. I tend to sink away into thought at the most inopportune moments, navigationally speaking. This is why I am so good at U-turns.

Sometimes I have to stop to make notes. Making notes is important. Without them the products of my immersion are as fleeting as a sunset. I pull over to thumb bullet points into my telephone: given difficult circumstances, could a golem count as a member of the congregation toward achieving quorum in a synagogue? How would an observant Jew orient his prayers toward Jerusalem if he lived on Mars? During the process of atmospheric conversion would it be more likely to encounter oxygen level lulls in Martian winter or Martian summer?

A dragonfly flies through the cabin of my car. Golden, too, it is.

When I was a kid I sometimes felt like the world was marching on without me. I don’t feel like that anymore. I don’t feel the same urge to capture and cage and stretch out the moments I enjoy. I know I can’t export them to the future, and it’s fruitless to try. The future is only slightly more imaginary than the past. All of it is smoke.

I knock the car into gear and drive on. I try not to fixate on the rearview because I might miss something out front. The object of the game is no two cars are allowed to touch. I accelerate, burning gas, bringing peak oil a fraction of a litre closer. I whistle.

The world scrolls around me, bending with perspective. I push through an ocean of air, an invisible tail of turbulence twisting behind me. It makes me dizzy sometimes to imagine this planet is round, and that I will die.

It’ll make my children cry when I do.

I imagine the grain elevator in the distance is an atmospheric processing station. The sky is dusty salmon cut by diaphanous islands of nitrogen clouds. What if the hamlet I’m passing through were on a Mars in the midst of a global ecosystem transition – how would it be different? Would it to be too cold to stake your dog out in the yard?

I go home and eat a steak and pet my dog. It’s funny how the world rhymes sometimes.

The real golden hour comes and goes. The frogs in my yard call out, buzzing and gulping and creaking. The sky fades and when the stars are clear the woods out back wink with fireflies, little silver sparks in the corner of your eye like you’ve stood up too fast. Faeries, they are. Inscrutable without the benefit of an entomologist. A glimmering and brief artifact of the solstice.

The seasons never wait. Nor the hours, nor the minutes. Life drains like water from a cupped hand – it cannot be pinched or grasped or slowed. Only savoured.


SaintPeter said...

I have nothing profound to say about this, except to say that I enjoyed it.

I think you did an especially good job of capturing the mood and feeling of those fleeting moments. More importantly, you captured your feeling about them.

Good stuff.

Sheik Yerbouti said...

Wow. Your ruminations on the beauty and the mystery continue to amaze. Also, it's fun to see how your mind works.

It's funny that this piece should remind me so much of two works by another favorite storyteller of mine. The first is a short essay called The Tick of the Clock (starts down the page a bit) and the second is a song called The Magic Hour.

Good story always brings us truth in the guise of illusion. Keep it up.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear SaintPeter,

Thanks kindly. I'm trying to stay true to my updated mandate to keep the words flowing even when the next stories remain in drydock for additional work before launch.

I have my finger in two writing pies right now...we'll see which ripens first (and who takes the gold in the next Mixed Metaphor Olympiad!).

Cheeseburger Brown

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Sheik,

Those are some lovely corollary links to attach to this post -- thanks, Sheik! If the subject of this post interested other readers, I suggest following Sheik's links.

Cheeseburger Brown