Happy birthday, Loren Eiseley!
September 3 was Loren Eiseley's 111th birthday. He is, in my mind, Nebraska's greatest writer. Eiseley, an anthropologist by training, is a pensive, mystical, and melancholy guy. He's always struck a chord with me. Here's a snippet about the nature of memory from his 1975 memoir in essays, All the Strange Hours: The Excavation of a Life. I, too, know about those restless nights and the hurdy-gurdy playing on a strange street. You?
When my aunt died I found among her effects a beautiful silver-backed Victorian hand mirror. It had been one of a twin pair my maternal grandfather had given to his girls. The last time I had seen my mother's mirror it had been scarred by petulant violence and the handle had been snapped off. It had marked the difference between the two girls -- their care of things, perhaps their lives. I had looked into the mirror as a child, admiring the scrollwork on the silver. Mostly things like that did not exist in our house. Finally it disappeared. The face of a child vanished with it, my own face. Without the mirror I was unaware when it departed.
Make no mistake. Everything in the mind is in rat's country. It doesn't die. They are merely carried, these disparate memories, back and forth in the desert of a billion neurons, set down, picked up, and dropped again by mental pack rats. Nothing perishes, it is merely lost till a surgeon's electrode starts the music of an old piano player whose scrolls are dust. Or you yourself do it, tossing in the restless nights, or even in the day on a strange street when a hurdy-gurdy plays. Nothing is lost, but it can never be again as it was. You will only find the bits and cry out because they were yourself. Nothing can begin again and go right, but still it is you, your mind, picking endlessly over the splintered glass of a mirror dropped and broken long ago.