A home movie of my sister Dana, taken sometime around 1967, shows her enthusiastically hunting Easter eggs in our backyard in Springfield, Va. Her 6-year-old self is wearing her pink Easter dress, pink Mary Janes and a navy blue straw hat. Captured by my dad on film with his Brownie Fun Saver movie camera, she was so full of joy, and watching her leap like a gazelle brings back such a carefree time in our young lives. My mom always set up an elaborate Easter egg hunt for Dana, Kristin and me, hiding treasures in interesting places—some so interesting that we didn’t find them until summer vacation. We wondered how the Easter bunny could know our heart’s desires.
My two favorite activities in those days were bicycling up and down our street, and hanging upside down from the swing set. My friend Nancy Gresham and I dared to climb up to the highest crossbar to suspend ourselves upside down from the backs of our knees. The very best part of these stunts was seeing the whole world turned upside down; indoors, I’d hang my head over the edge of the bed or sofa so that the floor became the ceiling, and vice versa. That was one of my many superpowers: making it possible for my family members to defy gravity and walk on the ceiling. I wondered how I could live like that always.
Nancy also had Nancy Sinatra’s album Boots, to which we would practice our best 9-year-old “boots, start walking” dance. Though Nancy was a bona fide fan, what sticks in my mind is that her mother pasted brown paper over the cover of Sinatra’s album, Sugar, deeming it too racy for us impressionable girls. I wondered, what could be so bad? We were more titillated by the brown paper than by the images underneath.
It was the season of wonder.
We spent our summer days at the Fort Belvoir pool, all tan and giddy with sugar and admiration for the teenage lifeguards who taught our swim classes. After the Greshams moved away to Florida, we visited them in St. Petersburg. We watched the Apollo moon landing on television in their living room in the summer of 1969 and wondered at that great feat of engineering and rocketry.
The National Zoo in Washington, D.C. was our zoo in those days, something I remembered recently when our son David moved in Washington. Looking at a map triggered a host of memories, even though I haven’t been there since we moved away in 1968, when my dad left for a tour in Vietnam, and we moved closer to my grandparents. My sister Jill is buried among the soldiers in Arlington National Cemetery.
Springfield was the place our family lived the longest until I moved away from home, so David landing in that area feels strangely like a homecoming for me. One of his first observations after he arrived and had a day or two to walk around the neighborhood was, “Mom, so much brick!” I remembered that my dad built a brick patio in the back of our house. He raked a base of sand smooth and level, then carefully set each brick until we had a proper pad for a charcoal grill, a picnic table and a set of webbed lawn chairs.
I was a book junkie at an early age, hungry for words, reading indiscriminately. I still read some oddball material; it feeds my curious self and puts me in touch with wonder. Finding my bearings in a new place helps, too.
Driving into western Colorado two weeks ago, I cut around the south end of the La Sal Mountains, then crossed the Dolores River in the Paradox Valley. My route took me around the south end of a high mesa, through the uranium-mining town of Naturita, then north up the next canyon east, and then, whoa, over the Dolores River again. What just happened, I thought? It seemed quite impossible, but there it was. Research was required to learn that a gajillion years ago or so, salt deposits under rock layers dissolved, and the layers collapsed to form the Paradox Valley. During that 150-million-year-long, slow motion collapse, the Dolores River maintained its entrenched course.
On my way back from Colorado, I met some folks to camp for a night. The jokes flew and Maryann regaled us with stories. Her memory for details is extraordinary, and I asked her how in the world she remembers all this stuff. “If you’re present in the moment, the details stay put better,” she assured me. Some of those present called bull****, but conceded that the new telling was a better story. I felt like an honored guest, being invited into this circle of friends who’ve been meeting for 30 years in the desert every year.
Next day, we decided to visit the San Juan waterfall. Our journey took us on a dirt road along the base of Cedar Ridge for an hour, another hour on the highway to the cutoff, and an hour-and-a-half over a red dirt road through the north end of Monument Valley. After a short march through the sandy bottomland, we finally came upon it. Ken and Jeff speculated on how high it was, and wondered why it might look different than the last time they’d seen it. Bruce took it upon himself to hike over to the top and send pieces of wood over the falls. Bill hiked over to pose for a photo so he could later estimate the height of the falls. More jokes were told. Beers were drunk. Conversations with a Navajo family who lost a family member in the hydraulics below the waterfall were had. We got a lecture on how the river diverted its course to form the falls.
I left them as they headed back to camp, and drove south to Flagstaff. My head was full of questions, and for a couple of hours, I drove silently along the road, full of wonder.
Darcy Falk is a textile artist and writer who has made Flagstaff her home for almost 30 years. The best sign in her studio says, “Don’t Give Up,” and she takes that advice often. See more of her writing and artwork at www.darcyfalk.com.