I have an old photograph of me in my office. It's a tiny thing, just 2x3", a black and white Polaroid. On the righthand side, the picture's marred by a ragged swath of white blankness where the developer backing was peeled away. In these days of cheap, good-quality digital cameras with free image-manipulation software to "fix" a weak photo, it's bemusing to see Polaroids today.I'm probably seven in the photo. A few years ago, my parents began sending me photos of myself as a baby, as a child, as a teen. This photo came in a batch of similar random shots, a few with dates, most with no explanation of where. In this photo, I and my childhood best friend, Gary, are standing on opposite sides of a steel trash barrel. My dad is standing by Gary, with one hand on his shoulder. I'm staring into the camera with that typical, little-kid-not-showing-any-teeth-just-lips wide smile. I hated having my picture taken, and it shows. There's a chain-link fence behind us, some blowsy shrubs to one side, trees on the other side of the fence. It's a sunny day, but I'm wearing a thin sweater.High art, it's not. As best I can figure, it must've been taken at Mashamoquet Brook & State Park, in Pomfret, Connecticut. I loved going there on family picnics, because it had some great streams to splash rocks into, and to wade barefoot into with butterfly nets to try to catch quicksilver minnows, which we would carefully drop head-first into an emptied Coke bottle filled with stream water. (Some even survived until we got home. Most didn't.)But I also loved it for its name: Mashamoquet, which all the locals (rightly or wrongly) pronounced "Mash-Mucket". Kids love funny names, and to a little white-bread kid with flat-drawling Wisconsinites for parents, "Mash-Mucket" sounded extraordinarily exotic. Right up there with "Timbuktu".Curious, I googled for the park today. One site that says the word is from the Nipmuc American native tribe and means, "at the important fishing place." I do hope they caught more than minnows. Or caught a whole lot more of them than we did.Looking at that photo today, I really can't remember that day. I don't remember what I was thinking. Probably, "Hurry up and get this over with so I can be off splashing or fishing." There's nothing to the picture to identify the people or the place. Aside from me being a former, and having memories of the latter, who would know?Photos are fossils made quickly by light, aren't they? A regular fossil isn't the leaf, or fish, or bird that died and was entombed there. It's silt and minerals that settled on and in, and slowly replaced every bit of "bird" with "rock in semblance of bird". In computer parlance, if you can reduce a stream of bits to a smaller stream, and later precisely reconstruct the original (longer) stream, that's "lossless compression". Shrink it, unshrink it, and nothing's lost. The fossil bird is a very lossy compression indeed; no sound, no color, no smell, no trait of the living thing survives save "vague shape".Similarly, this photograph is an extremely lossy compression of that time. My imagination and memories can decorate the photo a bit, fill in some of the lost details. But it's still not the time, just a vivid shadow of it. To someone else? It's a fossil, and not a very interesting one.Farther back? Of the time when the Nipmucs were gathering at their important fishing place? Far less survives. Just some words; some written by observers looking through the lens of European colonial understanding. Others written more recently by people who dig up "fossils", literally or figuratively. Me, I don't know what the place looked like, nor who the people were, nor what they looked like when they gathered at Mashamoquet. What they said; if they told jokes, and what they were. I know that they fished here, and that's it. I know that others know a lot about their "fossils".That was only three hundred years ago, give or take a few decades. A long time for me; I'll be lucky to be a third that old when I die. But not so long in human history. I wonder what today will look like, three hundred years from now, to people looking back?Maybe some of our Big Questions will have been answered. Is the planet warming up, and are we causing it? What causes cancer, and how to cure it? Does life exist on other planets? Will the Red Sox ever win the World Series again?But questions of what it was like to live today? That'll be compressed. The fossils will be Full Color High Definition fossils, and there'll be plenty of them. Operation Iraqi Freedom will be a well-preserved fossil. But will anyone in 2303 understand why we were arguing about it? What it felt like to be passionately convinced it was a Bad Idea, or the only possible action to take? Or, to not be sure which was the way to feel about it?If I'm right about my age in that Mashamoquet photo, Americans were killing and being killed in Viet Nam on that sunny day. I don't remember the Viet Nam war; I was just a self-absorbed kid. It's a fossil to me. I've seen newsreel coverage of protests from that time, of police and protestors clashing. Fossil. Of the war itself. Fossil. I don't really know what it felt like, back then, to be pro-war or anti-war that war. Judging from the fossil record (and my own memories, such as they are), it was such an amazingly chaotic time. So much was changing or being challenged in this country, in our culture, our ethics, our technology.In 2303, what will the fossil record have to say? And, how compressed will the record be? "I've seen the videos and photographs, but what was it like?" they'll say. "What a strange time that must've been." --FY
Sorry, you can only recommend a post to the Best of once. That was only three hundred years ago, give or take a few decades. A long time for me; I'll be lucky to be a third that old when I die. But not so long in human history. I wonder what today will look like, three hundred years from now, to people looking back?Too bad we can't set the Way Back Machine for 1703.I marvel that people survived without cars and WalMarts and iPods. I suspect people from 2303 will pity us for our backward way of life and unimaginative approach to problem-solving and wonder how we ever survived. It will probably seem like a miracle to them that we didn't annihilate ourselves and future generations, or turn the earth into a vast wasteland with rough beasts slouching toward wherever. We will look like antiquated relics and our "fossil remains" will be a curiosity. You seem to have picked out an interesting choice of a picture to put in your office out of the dozens you parents sent you. It must have some strong associations. Childhood friends are such a mystery. Most of us made friends and kept them effortlessly-it wasn't the hard work and planning it takes as an adult. It was comfortable and unself-conscious. It would be nice to set the Way Back Machine and recapture some of those feelings that are embedded in fossil too. mskk>^..^<
That was only three hundred years ago, give or take a few decades.I only met my grandmother a few times when I was little. She barely spoke English and looked like an Eastern European peasant, which is how she started out.She and my grandfather came over from Hungary in the late 1800's, no doubt refugees from the frequent pogroms that occurred in those parts. The fact that I met her at all connects me to a (subjectively) very distant past--her way of life before emigrating must have been little changed from the way it was for many hundreds of years.Sometimes I think about the migrations that brought their ancestors from the Middle East to Central Europe, and how different it was from my life today. And how all that history sometimes manifests in little ways today. For example, when my wife and I were in Morocco, she (of Northern European extraction) was practically eaten alive by bedbugs, while I was untouched, thanks to the immunity from Mediterranean pests I no doubt inherited from those people of old.--fleg, musing
For example, when my wife and I were in Morocco, she (of Northern European extraction) was practically eaten alive by bedbugs, while I was untouched, thanks to the immunity from Mediterranean pests I no doubt inherited from those people of old.--fleg, musingBut, then again, you have a delicious wife. To those not knowing I had the great pleasure of meeting them both. Mrs. fleg is one of those women you'd throw away all thoughts of fidelity, throw her over your shoulder and run screaming into the woods. That I didn't is a sign of maturity and the fact that fleg himself is several sizes larger than me and that Mrs. fleg is obviously smitten with Mr. fleg.Oh well, dreams.MichaelR
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