An upcoming staff and parent art exhibit at our school has given me good occasion to have a look back through some of the older photographs I’ve taken, but not shared or printed.
I took these photographs on the morning of New Year’s Eve in 2008. We were visiting Poland for the first time and we wanted to visit Auschwitz. We didn’t want to be part of a big tour; we wanted to go more quietly, so we hired a private guide who recommended that we leave at from Krakow at dawn. It was one of those mornings where the clear blue skies and warm sunlight made me think it should feel warm, but the air was so crisp and clean and cold that it froze the inside of my nose with every breath.
And that was the contrast of the day. The road to Auschwitz was watched over by stands of trees that seemed full and sparse at the same time; the early light cut between them, warming their bark and green needles and moss, and stretched out their shadows to define them in hyper-reality. And yet there was also an emptiness about them, the space between so palpable and full of absence. That negative space pervaded the camps at Birkenau, but where the trees were draped in the daybreak’s radiance, the remains of Birkenau were chilling in every way.
There was a wreath somewhere along the way. I’m not even sure that I saw it as our car sped by, but my camera caught it, its bright flowers aflame in the interstice. I don’t know why that wreath was there, or who placed it, or when, or whether it was marked by ceremony or if it was just set down, unnoticed by all the cars racing toward their imposed importances beyond the vanishing points of the hills and roads. But it’s frozen there now in a photograph at least, a testament of someone’s loss that without specific reference, without a name or story of how and why, becomes symbolic of all the losses I can’t imagine in those woods, along those roads. And more than that, it leaves me considering that only where love survives can we really remember.
Edie said today, that we are already half-way through the year. I thought about that and it feels to me like the year hasn’t even started yet, but also, like the year just ended. And so it goes for those of us whose lives tick on an academic calendar, those of us for whom New Year’s Eve is a midpoint of sorts and these humid days of summer are an interstice improbably carved out in between years.
That’s how it was when we were kids, wasn’t it? In between the years was a dream-time, a fiery affair with lost love, the burn of things to overexposure where heightened sensitivities sang themselves to numb and the silences broke through, a drowsy glance between friends on waking from an unplanned nap after a sun-drenched day at the beach, the moment around a campfire when it was perfect that we had all run out of things to say and there was nothing left but to listen to licks of yellow flame crack open the vascular secrets of fallen trees.
Summer wasn’t just a season, it was a land unto itself, an island of time as viscerally immediate and easily lost as song lyrics screamed into the rush, out the rolled-down windows of racing cars on gravel roads under cotton-clouded skies too perfect to be noticed except in retrospect, and suspect then, subject to the machinations of nostalgia and memory.
Japanese roses, also called Camelias, grow along the edge of the foreigners’ cemetery in Yokohama. I don’t understand the patterns of their blooming, only that it happens a couple of times a year. One of these times coincides roughly with the blooming of the cherry trees. Someone told me that the time in which the sakura are most beautiful is not the moment of full bloom (though admittedly that’s pretty spectacular), but the moment just after, as the blossoms are beginning to fade and fall from the trees like snow. When I was walking home from school one day, I happened to look down along the cemetery road and saw these fallen camelias and wind-blown sakura petals, perfect in their imperfection.