Back in the day | Moment's Notice

By Maria Montalvo | May 11, 2018
Photo by: Brian Soergel The Edmonds Historical Museum educational sign on Sunset Avenue, just north of the ferry terminal, which portrays the view from that spot just over 100 years ago (ca. 1910).

“Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.” – Henry David Thoreau, “Walden”

During the first week of May, I am more attentive to the progress of time, since my own clock ticks forward, or as a friend says, I start my next exciting trip around the sun.

Last year at this time, I wrote how our brain time is different from actual time. As we get older, we perceive time differently because we engage in fewer new activities and thereby our brains register fewer new details, so we think time is moving faster.

The kicker of that mind trick is that we remember the early experiences much more vividly, making memories of the past more poignant and the backdrops more impactful than those of later years.

Those early memories become the ruler by which we measure all that comes after.

In other words, everyone eventually starts using versions of those phrases that you never think you will say – “back in my day” or “I remember when,” or “kids these days.”

The interpretation of those past years often sound something like more was expected of us, so we are tougher, or life was simpler, and we are losing something now.

I am the first one to express gratitude for experiencing my formative years in the 1980s, before the prevalence of social media or even smartphones and their cameras, “back when kids were naïve a little longer,” as I often say.

Unfortunately, for some, those early years are brutal or at least very difficult, and the poignant memories set the standard of pain or hardship, and their living environment does not change much over time.

Depending on where you were born and under what conditions, the way we perceive the past and the potential for the future is so very different. By saying things are or were best at a certain time or in a certain place, are we complicit to the ills that invariably occurred then and there?

If not complicit, are we at least cognizant?

This occurs to me every time I walk by the Edmonds Historical Museum educational sign on Sunset Avenue, just north of the ferry terminal, portraying the view from that spot just over 100 years ago (ca. 1910).

It depicts industry hard at work along the waterfront, where what had been dense forest was replaced by a line of mills, smokestacks and shipping access via rail and water. It is not exactly idyllic, but dirty harsh, and as we learned later, damaging much of the environment around it (referred to as an “eyesore” in the 1950s), with the last mill closing in 1951 after all of the trees had been cut down.

The same view 200 years ago would have shown our Native American tribes, like the Snohomish, pursuing a way of life similar to that 300, 400 and 500 years before, with varying levels of infiltration by the advancing immigrants to their land.

There are positive and negative points in human history, things worth treasuring and things worthy of scorn, yet there is an urge to harken back to something that felt right at the time.

The method we use to determine which part of the stretch of our human history is idealized is so very limited to our personal perception, and we now know even our brain plays tricks on us with how we remember it.

With the fewer memorable or remarkable experiences, or at least the ones my brain attributes more space to, I wonder which ones represent things from the past that truly should be preserved and which are from the very long list of cultures, species, kingdoms, dynasties, belief systems, art and lifestyles lost to the never-ending passage of time and inevitable change.

I suppose only time itself will know.

 

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