It was a uhaul moving truck. Two year old me was sitting in the driver’s seat. We were moving from London to Mitchell. My parents have an old picture of me sitting in that truck. Somehow, I still have a faint memory of the inside of the uhaul truck…it was old, at least by today’s standards. It’s the earliest memory that I have and I’m not really sure how I still remember it. I recall at some point realizing that this specific memory had become pictures in my mind…that at some point the original memory had been replaced with a memory of a memory.
Dashing through the snow, running, and pushing my GT Snowracer, with my sister running next to me. I used to think that the backyard at our first house in Mitchell was so incredibly large. It was truly a journey to push the GT all the way back to the end of the lot, despite the fact that it wasn’t that far. We would pretend that we lived under the branches of the pine tree at the very back of the property, and that the GT Snowracer was our snowmobile. The snow was so deep, but I think that may have been because we were so small. We moved from that house when I was 6, so my memories have remained without being tainted by growing taller. I wonder what my memory would be like if we had lived there when I was older.
Fast forward. I’m five, on an airplane with my parents, on the way to Alberta to visit my great Aunt and Uncle. I remember wanting to be in a window seat, but ending up in the aisle. Somehow I remember nothing of takeoff or landing, but I do remember looking out the window and seeing the tiny world below. I can also still picture what it was like inside that airplane. I got to visit the cockpit, and the pilot joked that he was flying with no hands(using autopilot). I don’t remember arriving or leaving Edmonton airport, but I remember arriving back in Toronto. I still remember the general layout of the house that we stayed in near Edmonton, and the grounds outside. I remember the grass being taller than I was, and not liking that because I couldn’t see the thistles before getting pricked by them. I remember going to Edmonton Mall and seeing the pirate ship. I remember Mom and Dad going away for a few days to Jasper, and I remember crying when they returned. We don’t have many pictures from that trip, and I haven’t been there or on an airplane since, so I feel like these memories are more real…something that I couldn’t have just constructed.
Cameras have changed the world of memory. We can take pictures that can last longer than we will. Pictures that can etch memories in our minds long after the original memory has vanished. Do I really remember sitting in the moving truck, or did I see a picture me sitting there, and construct a memory? I find it interesting that the memories that I have that aren’t attached to photos seem to be stronger. Although I do find it interesting that whether my memories are attached to photos or not, they tend to be photos in my mind, with stories to go with them. It’s like my brain remembers the general narrative and then attaches some sort of picture to go with the scene. Maybe this is why I’m good at photography….because my brain naturally compartmentalizes what it takes in visually.
All of my road trips have been accompanied by many photos. They tend to heavily define the memories I have of a trip. I always find it interesting looking at my brother’s photos from the same trip, because they awaken in me old memories that I had forgotten. I take pictures of my trips mostly because I want to capture what it was like to be there…so in some ways it would make sense that my memories are heavily connected to my photos. It feels like my road trip memories more easily fade and become the pictures that I’ve taken, but there’s a part of me that wonders: what would my memories be like if I didn’t take any pictures of a trip.
It’s interesting to think back on my trips and remember memories that don’t have photos attached to them. In some senses I wonder what power these memories must have, to exist when I have thousands of photos to look at that strengthen other memories. That being said, typically photos are taken during the parts of the trip that I would want to remember, and photos are not taken when things aren’t worth remembering. Like the fact that in Yukon, the rest stop outhouses often didn’t have latches…but it didn’t really matter since there weren’t any people around anyway. Or the worst piece of highway that I drove being between Edmonton and Saskatchewan: it was frost heaved so badly I felt like I almost got air once or twice. Or driving in the pitch black, at 4am, near Wawa: I was driving 70kph, since I had been told that my chances of hitting moose were really high at night….meanwhile, I was getting passed by pickup trucks doing like 130…on their way to the shift change at the gold mine. Or sitting up late at an empty campground in Yukon, hoping to see the northern lights…nodding off in my chair, and waking up the darkness…freezing cold. There are so many little memories that never get recorded that make the journey the adventure that it is.
I recently went camping in Killarney and was struck once again by how much bigger and more awesome everything is when compared with my pictures and memories. There’s something about walking across the top of a rocky ridge that cannot be captured by camera. Something about walking amongst the trees, with their brilliant reds, oranges, yellows, and greens, that cannot be memorized. Something about driving amongst the rock cuts on Highway 17, 69 and 400, that cannot be justified by memories or photographs. I think that’s why I continue to love Northern Ontario, despite having seen much greater sights. There is something about it that cannot be captured….something that makes it new every time I return. The very part of my journeys that I spend the most time attempting to capture, is the part that simply cannot be captured. Despite the grasping nature of these memories, they are the ones that my mind clings to. Long after a road trip has ended, my mind clings to the faint remembrance of being surrounded by mountains, or under the wide open skies of the prairies.
I’ve come to realize that my road trips are never quite as perfect as I remember them. There are a lot of trials involved in road tripping. Rain days, cookstoves that don’t work, getting a sub-par campsite, road construction, noisy neighbours at night, car trouble, leaky tents….the list goes on. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a perfect road trip, yet I have enough amazing memories that I am sure I know what a perfect road trip would be like…and it never seems out of reach. The trials I’ve experienced while road tripping just pale in comparison with the awesome experiences that come with them.
I feel like my life as a Christian is supposed to function in the same way….but it typically doesn’t. It’s far too easy to dwell on the bad experiences, and the good ones just don’t seem that spectacular. And yet, God is supposed to be more spectacular than any mountain or any twisty road. Sometimes it feels like my road tripping self has a much better grasp on life than my normal self…