I put it off for a good two weeks, until my floor was barely visible. I might have left it longer, but suddenly I was flying to Vancouver the next day to visit my sister and I could not pack until I tackled it. It was the mess of stuff accumulated during three years in Africa that I had casually left scattered across my desk, and on the floor in several bags and piles. Hours later I had succeeded in cleaning the space, and in finding a place for all the odd items I had been hesitant to sort through. A lot ended up in the trash. I let go of tickets, receipts, and old baggage tags. Whatever I planned to keep fit into a single tin box that used to contain assorted chocolates. I placed it gently atop one of several boxes that line the bottom shelf of my bookcase, under a stack of mostly empty diaries, and rows of texts I have admired more than read. The whole room seems to me an homage to false starts and lofty dreams that were never fully realized.
I used to call them my “memory boxes.” As I grew up it seemed foolish to keep so many scraps of the past, be they ticket stubs or notes passed in class, but I could not throw them away. Each adventure brought me new bits and pieces to save. High school and summer camp each had a box. My first trip to Africa had one too. There was a place for four years of university and a nook for the year spent studying afterwards in England. The collection has grown over the years and can no longer be arranged in as organized a fashion, and some have been relegated to the floor. I doubt I’d save them first in a fire, but so they remain after all this time, collecting dust.
Three years of swamp adventures (with a few sand dunes thrown in for good measure) were safely tucked away. Now was the time for fresh ambition and new goals. I would order more books! I would take up spinning and yoga and maybe run a half-marathon! I would find a new job, of course, and a perfect apartment that was really a small house, because I’ve always imagined having my own backyard and front porch. Once I’d ticked X next to all of these items on my not-at-all naive to-do list I would be able to get the thing I’ve wanted since I was old enough to conceive of my dreams in the first place: a puppy.
It will probably come as no surprise that my initial excitement and decisiveness has faded significantly since I arrived home last month. The only thing I am sure of is the name and breed of said puppy. I plan to have a boxer, and while I paused for some time considering the name Henry Higgins, I am now entirely committed to calling him Captain von Trapp, for obvious reasons. I might even take up sewing and fashion him a winter sweater out of curtains, because even dogs need play clothes!
Apologies for digressing.
Today I sat down to come up with a suitable name for this space, and to write about more immediate experiences. I’ve been home for a while, and life has gone on, albeit at a quieter pace than I’m used to. Frustrated by a lack of inspiration, I found myself with a chocolate box open next to the computer. I glanced gingerly at a few visible items; there were handwritten letters, postcards and photographs, and a note fashioned from dung and earth that welcomed me to the place where I touched the soft skin of an elephant for the first time, feeling the weight of ivory and wisdom in my hand.
This blog needs a makeover – a spring clean if you will. I am no longer in Africa, and that will certainly inform my words from here on out. It also occurred to me today that I do not wish to add to my collection of little boxes. A tin container cannot hold the breadth of an adventure or the impact of wide-eyed discovery. There are too many stories enclosed to leave them shut. While I’m attempting to find a new place and function in my old stomping grounds, I want to record what I can of my most recent journey before it becomes too difficult to remember the more minute details, like the way the black and white feathers of my beloved pied kingfisher catch the light of setting sun over delta channels.
It’s often trying to focus on a place you still miss with large parts of your heart. Boxes don’t help much, but words do.
“Sometimes I need
only to stand
wherever I am
to be blessed.”
– Mary Oliver