With the approach of her tenth summer, Julia considers the holidays that lie before her: will there be too many things for her to do? Trying to look ahead from school time, with its time-tables and schedules, makes it hard to remember, or to imagine, what summertime will be before summer arrives and the school year ends. In the summer when I was Julia’s age I heard Elvis Presley for the first time, down by the river on the jukebox in the fish-and-chip joint where teenagers went to hold hands and drink ice cream sodas and eat salted french fries drenched in vinegar. The scent of vinegar and fry oil drifted across Riverside Park on a dry wind that brushed over the skin on your arms and your cheeks, and later, as you lay waiting for sleep in the dark, you could feel the prickliness coming to the surface. Such moments stand for all the moments of summer in that period, when time became entirely spatial and took on the colour of sunlight. Time ceased altogether at night, to remake itself in the vast space of the day that lay waiting for you when you woke up, no matter how early in the morning. In the summer given to me in memory I cruise the city with my friends on bicycles, hurtling down First Avenue toward Riverside Park, or out past the city limits on the Trans-Canada Highway. I may have been nine years old, or ten or eleven: there is no chronology to summertime. The family station wagon, a long green Ford with a sticky gearshift, carried us through undulating blue forests toward a glassy mirage retreating and shimmering in the pavement, and finally to a distant lake where leathery bulrushes undulated among sand dunes and invisible bullfrogs sang in the twilight, and in the evening we trod the cooling dirt pathway to the general store in bare feet. From time to time stillness overtook the world; a shower of rain spit into the hot sand and ozone gathered in the air and in our nostrils; we huddled indoors from the storm and played War and Crazy Eights and Go Fish and Old Maid; these moments too are coordinates in a field of time.
Time in the summer takes on the fine-grained texture of sunlight in the evening, when everything comes to the surface and time itself is nothing but a kind of skin, an integument of things, and the limits of summer were merely the horizon that was its circumference, beyond which the future lay waiting on all sides.
For most ten-year-olds, time in its administrative mode has not fully set in (Julia, for instance, has recently abandoned her wrist watch: “Too much trouble—I really don’t have time for it,” she says). I want to caution her that with each passing summer, cycles of day and night are channelled more deeply into the linear stream, into the succession of instants issuing from the National Time Signal and broadcast every day (“at the beginning of the long dash”) on CBC radio, perhaps even from the tower in the Parliament Buildings adorned with enormous clocks in the postage stamps of my childhood. Here in Vancouver the time signal is augmented at noon by four blasts from an airhorn (the first notes of the national anthem) that can be heard seven miles away, and in the evening by the boom of the nine o’clock gun. Moments in series reduce the times of our lives to the mere punctuation of eternity, which is to say, to weariness without end: we are marshalled like the children filing into church in William Blake’s poem “Holy Thursday,” watched over by grey-headed beadles who bear wands as white as snow.
When Julia was six or maybe seven, we came in late one afternoon and when we opened the front door the air was heavy with the aroma of bread baking in the kitchen. “Oh, that’s fresh bread,” Julia said, and she took a deep breath and then another deep breath. “That’s so good,” she said. “Stay there for a minute.” She went back outside and closed the front door, and opened it and came in again and looked at me in a conspiratorial way and took in another deep breath and said, “Oh, that’s fresh bread!” Then she went back outside and came in one more time and looked at me and said the same thing again. The philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty writes that in order to retain the moment preceding this one before it sinks away forever, we have to reach through a thin layer of time to “as it was just now.” In Julia’s example, not only does one reach through time to rejoin a vanishing moment, but one shares it with a witness.
Tilo Driessen is a photographer from Vancouver, daylighting as a planner. His images can be seen here.