Monday, April 23, 2012


All alone in the moonlight
I can smile at the old days
I was beautiful then
I remember the time I knew what happiness was
Let the memory live again  -- Trevor Nunn

A fragile thing, memory.  But what a role it plays in our lives.  Marcel Proust wrote some one and a half million words on the subject, contrasting voluntary memory with the involuntary sort.  The most famous song from Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Cats is titled "Memory," and the lyrics are based on two poems by T.S. Eliot.  Elvis Presley sang of "Memories, pressed between the pages of my mind."  And now we have a new meaning for "memory," a techological one.

The genesis of this soliloquy is a trip Kevin and I took this past Saturday (April 21, 2012).  As we continue to sell off equipment we no longer need, we received an order from a young man in Madras, Oregon.  I remembered Madras as being some twenty-five miles or so south of Biggs Junction, the community on the Columbia River where US Highway 97 crosses Interstate 84.  In actuality, my memory was faulty.  Madras is closer to one hundred miles south of Biggs.  That's the kind of memory that Proust calls Voluntary.  We summon things up, rightly or wrongly, from whatever musty corner of our mind.

Proust contrasted this type of memory with Involuntary, the memories that certain events or items trigger in us.  At the end of the opening section of Swann's Way, the narrator bites into a madeleine, a shell shaped sponge cake, and is taken to his childhood,  For me, the better example of an Involuntary Memory trigger is the sight of a Red Delicious apple.  (We didn't eat madeleines when I was growing up, so they carry no weight for me the way they did for Proust.)  Seeing a Red Delicious apple in the grocery store, I am instantly transported to Billings, Montana, to a house just off 17th Street West. a house that no  longer exists on a street that similarly has been replaced.  I am seven or eight years old, and I see the box with the snowman holding an apple.  I see the deep, dark red of the perfectly formed apple.  I taste the sweet flavor, hear the "crack" as my teeth bite into the crisp fruit, feel the liquid on my chin as the apple's juice overflows my mouth.  The 1958 Snoboy Red Delicious is to me the epitome of appledom.  Each fall my parents would buy a crate which would live on the back porch of that house in Billings, always available for an afternoon or evening snack.    Note that it is only the sight of the Red Delicious that acts as a trigger.  For at least the past thirty years, biting into one has been a major disappointment.  Today's Red Delicious is neither sweet, crisp nor juicy.  It is not what I want when I eat an apple.  Today I would choose a Gala or a Fuji to get the same gustatory pleasure I remember from the late 1950s.

Red Delicious Apples (My Madeleines)

My first experience of the fragility of memory came in the fall of 1976.  (There may have been earlier episodes, but if so, I have forgotten them.)  On my way to the San Francisco Caledonian Society's Highland Games, I stopped in Smith River to visit my parents.  My car's battery died, and Poppa suggested we drive up to Brookings (Oregon) to replace it.  On the way, he asked that I stop at the pharmacy in the Brookings Harbor Shopping Center.  He thought that something he had eaten at Kiwanis that noon was causing some indigestion.  The pharmacist graciously offered antacids, but suggested that he wanted to call a doctor because he thought Poppa was having a heart attack.  The doctor put Poppa into an ambulance and took him to the nearest hospital, twenty-five miles away in Gold Beach, Oregon.  Later that evening, Poppa suffered two cardiac arrests, and was resuscitated both times with electric shock.  When Momma and I got to the hospital, we found Poppa in a coma, and the hospital staff told us that should he come out of the coma, there would almost assuredly be some sort of brain damage.

Three days later, Poppa did emerge from the coma, but over time we found out what brain damage had occurred.  The most difficult issue for me was his memory loss.  He had essentially no short-term memory.  Photographs, or in his case photographic slides, would trigger memories from my childhood in the early 1950s.  Seeing a image that he had captured on film, he could tell you where the picture was taken, when it was taken, who was along on the trip and how many fish they caught.  BUT, he couldn't retain for five minutes what you'd just told him in conversation.  I found this extremely frustrating dealing with it from a distance of nine hundred miles.  I have no idea how Momma dealt with it day by day.

Poppa & Hans (My favorite photo of my dad)
Taken in the early 1970s near Stevensville, Montana

Events from  our drive to Madras brought all this back to mind, triggering these memories as it were.  As regular readers know, I am putting together a photo book on Montana's fifty-six counties.  At this point, I have completed the photographic work, and am finishing the writing.  Once this project is done, I want to do similar books on Idaho, Washington and, yes, Oregon.  Madras is the county seat of Jefferson County, and this trip would allow me to get photos of the Jefferson County sign, the county court house, and at least some images of the scenic beauty of the county.  Now I hate taking pictures from a moving car.  They almost never come out the way I want, and focusing the camera while passing scenery at seventy miles per is just a bitch.  Besides, we have driven to Portland and beyond so many times, that there is very little I haven't already captured along that route.  On this trip, I didn't even pick up the camera until we had turned off the Interstate and were heading south on US 97.  At that point, I found that in a bit of supreme irony, I had forgotten my memory card.  The 16 gigabyte Toshiba SDHC memory card that usually resides inside my camera was, at that moment, in a slot on my computer at the gallery, over four hundred miles away.  Kevin, anticipating such memory lapses on my part, had insisted that I always carry a spare or three, and sure enough, even though I didn't have my camera bag along, the man bag I do carry had a Transcend 4 gig card, which I promptly inserted into the camera's slot.  It did not take long for me to become concerned, alarmed even.

I shot a few through the windshield shots just to capture the road and its twists, turns, rises and falls, and then my camera gave me a warning message.  The card needed to be formatted.  I've never before had that particular message appear,  The camera gave me the option of letting it format the card, so as I seemed to have no choice, I agreed.  With first Mount Hood then Mount Jefferson on the western horizon, I took picture after picture as we passed through Moro, Grass Valley and Shaniko.  Once in Madras, we found the court house and I got a few shots of that building.  Trying to get more shots of Mount Jefferson, the camera gave me a new error message, CHR.  I had no idea what this meant, but when I tried to review the pictures I'd already taken, the screen told me that there were no images in memory.  My camera had, apparently, forgotten the twenty-six shots I'd just taken over the past hour or two.  At this point, I still have not been able to view those photographs, even though when I insert the memory card into my computer, I can see that there are twenty-six images on the card, all with the correct "NEF" extension that Nikon uses to denote RAW images.  When I try to download the set, Adobe Bridge tells me that it cannot "obtain files from this device."  Should I try to load a single image into Photoshop, I get the message "Could not complete your request because it is not the right kind of document."  A scan of the card indicates that the files are "corrupted or unreadable."  This is not helpful.  Fortunately, there were no "one-of-a-kind" shots on the disk.  Anything that might have been there can be recaptured at another date.  All it requires is another trip to Madras, Oregon.

Not a view from Madras, but a similar one from further south on US 97
Taken 4/16/2007

In closing all I can say is that I'm glad I didn't insist that we take two side trips while visiting Jefferson County.  There is a bridge in the Peter Skene Ogden State Park on the Jefferson/Deschutes county line that I will need to document for my upcoming book on the bridges of Conde McCullough.  It's about twenty-five miles south of Madras, and thus would have added at least an hour to our drive.  The Cove Palisades State Park should offer plenty of scenic views where the Crooked, the Deschutes and the Metolius Rivers all come together in a lake behind Round Butte Dam.  This is just a few miles west of Madras.  Finally, the Crooked River National Grassland surrounds Madras and probably has at least a few places worth viewing and sharing.  None of these areas were among the shots now lost on the four gig card.

As I check things out at home, my Nikon Coolpix L3 tells me that it cannot use the 4 gig card.  The D80 has no trouble with other cards I had at home nor with the 16 gig card it normally uses, now that I've retrieved that from the gallery computer.  So at this point, I'm crossing my fingers and saying that the problem was the card and not the camera.  It's much easier to replace a twenty-dollar card than a thousand dollar camera.  Now if we could just find a way to replace the memory cards in our brain--after, of course, backing up and saving the information of the existing memory.

On the Jefferson/Wasco County Line, US 97, Central Oregon
(Taken with my iPhone--always carry a backup, right?)

1 comment:

High Anglican Hiker said...

Thanks for the memories, especially for the photo of your Father and Hans. Thanks for having shared your parents with us -- young people can never have too many spare parents. (Your folks, Charlotte Woodruff, in-laws, etc.) For apple memories, something more recent, yesterday in fact. A cold, crunchy Gala, a chunk of gorgonzola and a sharp paring knife. Great. Hmm, what's for lunch?