How many roads must a man walk down, before you call him a man? – Bob Dylan

There’s a trailhead to Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondacks that starts on an old forest road. It’s probably left over from the days of logging. I haven’t been on this trail in probably 20 or more years. It might be closer to 30. And yet, for some reason I can picture it in my mind almost perfectly. Or at least I think I can. I mean without going back, how can I be sure I accurately remember it? But the reality in my mind is that I recall it perfectly.

I also remember key points along the trail. Sometimes I will wander down this road in my memory and remember the joys of this particular hike. I should do it again someday.

There are many physical roads like that that I travel down in my mind and hope to go back to again someday.

But, at night, as I lay in bed, there are some roads in my mind I find I just can’t travel down anymore. Or at least not now, perhaps in the future. Last night as I was drifting off, I started to remember my father’s property in the years soon after he bought it. It had a number of outbuildings that had been built over the years. I’m still not sure what they were used for, since it was a never a working farm or anything like that, and even so they weren’t the sort of buildings one would use for such a purpose. I do recall one had some old nudes pasted on the wall.  I remember having grandiose plans for turning one into sort of a clubhouse for me and my friends, but for various reasons… life happened and that didn’t.

Travelling down this particular road started to bring up other memories of my father, who would have been 72 this year. And I stare down these lanes of memory and have to stop myself. Some I know I can explore and laugh and smile as I travel down the fond memories, others… well I have built gates across them. The memories are too close and too raw and I fear if I travel down them any distance I’ll get lost in those memories and the pain will be too much. So, I look over the gate and say, “not now…”

Gradually I’ve found some of those gates I can open, but not all.

The Road goes ever on and on,
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say. – JRR Tolkien

My father introduced me to both the poet and author I quote here, but he was more fond of one, and I the other. I’ll leave it to the reader to guess or know which is which.

So, I don’t know how many roads I have to travel down, or how many I can. But they’re there, beckoning.

Snow Days

“I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.” – A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas

As I’m writing this there is snow gently falling from the sky and the ground is covered.

I woke up this morning to the sound of a plow scraping the roads clear.  I got up to check the school closings list, expecting at least a 2 hour delay. Somewhat surprisingly there was none.

But it got me thinking about how the same event can be perceived differently by different people.

As a young kid, many of us loved the idea of a snow day.  We hoped we’d wake up to the soft hush a blanket of snow causes, broken only by the occasional scrape of the snow plow. Perhaps we might hear the sound of wheels spinning as a car tried to gain traction to keep on its way. Some even created rituals, such turning their pjs inside out, or sleeping with a spoon under our pillows. (For the record I actually never even heard of any of these until I was an adult). A snow day meant a day of fun in the snow: building a snowman, or better a snow fort and having snow ball fights.  I recall one particularly expansive snow fort friends and I built in a snow bank in the center of Falls Village where we grew up. It had a main chamber from which we could survey our domain and at least two side tunnels we could craw through, leading to smaller “towers” that could fit one of us, to provide flanking fire for anyone foolish enough to try an assault on the main chamber.

Sometimes we’d even play the hero and after one blizzard at least, a friend and I went through town, uncovering buried cars, just in case anyone was trapped. Fortunately no one was. Of course we also then had to at one point dodge a snowplow by scrambling through a 5′ embankment of snow created by previous plows.

As we got older, we may have given up on the rituals and built fewer snowmen, but we still enjoyed our snow days. It meant a break from school, perhaps a chance to catch up on homework. But it also often meant chores, the need to shovel the walk, or worse the driveway.

Then we got older still and now we didn’t get days off. We were told, “the office is still open. Please drive safely.” Now those spinning tires we heard as a child were us, trying to keep straight, and on the road, in order to get to work. Those snowplows we hoped to hear as a child were both a boon and a bane. They helped clear the roads, but also seemed to be in the way.

If our children were young enough, suddenly a day off from school for them, became a burden for us as we struggled to find a sitter or some form of daycare.

We no longer looked forward to forecasts of snow. We dreaded them.  We started our own rituals, some actually more effective than what we practiced as a child. We’d pre-salt the walkway. We’d make sure we had a snowbrush inside the house ready to go so we could clear off the car before opening the door.

It was the same event, but a completely different perspective.  I think I preferred the childhood perspective.

And the irony is not lost on me that my job now actually permits me to sit at home, avoiding the drive, and to write about the snow.

For me, even when I have to drive in it, I actually love the snow and snow days.

For you, I hope you get the day you want, young or old, snow or not.



Page 81

One of the things that has always fascinated me is human memory; how we create them, what sticks, what doesn’t and how it evolves.

Many people think that human memories are rather static. The truth is that’s far from the truth.  As we saw in the 1990s is easy to form false memories and easy to conflate them.

One detail that is interesting is that human memories are a bit like DRAM in a computer.  In essence when we recall a memory, we have to basically read out the memory space and write it back.  One of the side effects is this can actually help strengthen memories.  However, it also means when it’s written back, other memories can be conflated with it and a new, slightly different memory is formed.

There’s two main ways of remember something that stand out to me as I write this.  Repetition and what I’ll call “sudden shock”.

Many things we need to repeat until we remember them.  An example is a child learning their times tables. There’s really not much context and really only rote repetition will cause these to sink in.

At the other end of the spectrum are the memories that are etched in our minds. “Where were you when Challenger blew up?”  “How did you first hear about 9/11?”  If you ask someone of the right age, they’ll know exactly when/where they were and probably recall vivid details.

If you ask them where they were on the 3rd shuttle mission, they’d probably have no clue.  The same is true if you ask them what they were doing on 9/9.

In between are more general memories. Memories of childhood that don’t necessarily have a specific timestamp or even importance.  I recall playing in some woods behind my house growing up, but there was nothing really significant about the time or place. I have no idea why I have that memory.

I mentioned above that memories can be modified or manipulated. There’s some work on treating PTSD this way; helping patients recall specific events under controlled circumstances and essentially rewriting the memory into something that doesn’t cause an attack. (Propanolol is one drug being experimented with to do this.)

Strangely there’s one memory of mine that persists that while not a real issue is sort of pointless and annoying to me.  It’s “Page 81”.

What’s that you ask? Many years ago (let’s just say before I was a teenager I think) I was staying at my cousin’s grandmother’s house.  On the bookshelf they had a copy of Jaws 2. I started reading it but had to leave before I could finish it. Since I knew I’d be back the next summer I decided to remember what page I was on. I repeated the page number to myself over and over again. And to this day, I can remember, I was on page 81 of Jaws 2 when I stopped reading.  Of course decades later I have no idea what happened in pages 1-80 so the memory doesn’t do me much good. But there it is. It’s still there. Page 81.

As a note, most of this post was based on memory (I had to look up the name of the drug) so some details may be wrong.

Page 81.