A benefit of the nomadic existence is that you don’t have to figure out how to celebrate holidays. The holidays find you, instead of the other way around. They celebrate themselves.

I wasn’t trying to hide from the Fourth of July. It would have been impossible anyway. Independence Day decended upon the Keweenaw Peninsula, especially Eagle River and Copper Harbor, like a red, white and blue quilt, sandy and wet, stained with beer and burned by hot cinders and dangerous pyrotechnics. It was heavy. And hot.

I can’t stop thinking about memory. How fleeing it is. How we all just wander around in a daze of fantasy, the past as elusive as the wake left behind by a jetski. We think that we are what we’ve done, what we can remember, and yet it often feels impossible to remember a fraction of a fraction of one percent of the things we’ve experienced. Perhaps Nora Ephron came up with one of the best titles for a non-fiction collection in the entire history of literature: I Remember Nothing.

A few weeks ago, I caught a fascinating interview with the editor of the New York Times Book Review – presumably on NPR, while driving, because I can’t imagine how else I would have heard such a thing. She talked about coming to terms with the fact that she forgets so much of what she reads - characters, plots, entire books.

That put me at ease, because I’m a forgetter too. We all are. I read as slow as possible now, to pull in as much as I can, but it’s still an Atlas-level struggle. I just started The Overstory and the first few pages took me twenty or so minutes. I probably read half the sentences twice. Still, the text goes through me. It leaves memories that are more like phantoms.

The sheer volume of things I’ve read and utterly forgotten is astounding. I’m one hundred percent certain that I read Much Ado About Nothing and equally certain that I can’t tell you a single thing about it. Similarly, I’ve read at least a dozen Flannery O’Connor short stories, and although I can remember some of the titles (Everything That Rises Must Converge, A Good Man Is Hard to Find), these few little tidbits of information represent literally every single thing I can recall across the whole lot: A woman without an arm. (Or was it a leg?) And some person (or people) interacting with a mass murderer (or murderers) in the woods. Perhaps it ends with death. Perhaps not.

The Overstory seems interested in memories that are bigger than any single person. Humans, as a species, have shared animal brains with evolutionary-scale recollections, messy stuff that’s hard for us to recognize and understand. We love and hate other people for the same reasons that we love and hate ourselves. Come to think of it, maybe that’s what the title is all about. Maybe that’s “the overstory,” the bigger story that connects all of our smaller stories. I’m still on page 91 of 500, trying to connect the dots, and identifying with pretty much every character in weird and surprising ways.

Here’s something I highlighted, a little nugget about memory:

“Butt sniff,” Emmett replies. The image is so richly animalistic that Adam will carry it with him into the corridors of middle age. That moment of bickering will make up a good share of everything he’ll recall of his sister Leigh.

I love that. I love the way that fiction can be so full of truth. I can think of some totally whacky stuff that represents “a good share of everything” that I can recall about a few specific people, including people who have played a significant role in my life.

Here’s a funny broken memory about broken memories, one that I can’t quite place, but it definitely happened within the last five years: E and I are sitting in an airport (in Africa? Nepal? Cuba?) trying to piece together the last few days of our vacation, writing bulleted lists as fast as possible. We time ourselves. Five minutes to get down as many memories as possible, no matter how silly. In fact, the sillier the better. Napping in the cemetery. Dude stacking pennies in front of the museum. Crazy woman in line for the ferry. The ferry. Crazy sunburn. Being Hangry. Mexican for lunch. Old, sad guy playing Neil Young covers. The game is scored like Scattergories, one point for every memory, pen down when the timer runs out. (Now I wonder: Why were we always so competitive?) Afterwards, E turns the lists into sentences and stories, entire vacations worth of journal entries, utterly forgotten. Stuff we might never take the time to go back and read.

It might be much ado about nothing, but everything that rises must converge, and there’s a reason that I’m waxing about memory right now. It’s because I’m sitting in the library in Calumet, which closes in forty five minutes, and I’m trying to figure out how to capture even just a few tiny slivers from my last forty-eight hours. 4th of July, 2019. It feels hopeless. It feels like it’s not just over, but gone.

Anwyay, here’s a rapid-fire run-through, in no particular order, unless you consider stream-of-consciousness to be order, which it very well may be:

  • I hung out in downtown L’Anse for half an afternoon. Not quite long enough to figure out how to pronounce L’Anse.

  • I parked Sputnik on a grassy lawn adjacent to a stretch of sandy beach and a splashpad full of screaming children in bathing suits.

  • I swam and read and wrote and ate and swam and read and wrote and ate, again and again and again, long enough for the sun to trace a giant parabola across the sky.

  • I decided that I’m not quite ready to say goodbye to the Great Lakes, which is okay, because I don’t have to just yet. I decided that I’m already nostalgic about this portion of the trip. I decided that I’m not going to remember any of it, but that’s okay. I decided that I’m also really psyched about what’s next: the lakes in Wisconsin, the Mississippi River Valley, and beyond. I decided that it makes perfect sense that I spend more time looking at the water on my map than looking at the roads. Humans are water. Life is water. Everything is water. This is Water.

  • Sputnik and I move when it’s time to move and stop when it’s time to stop. No unnecessary questions. No second guessing.

  • The first time I passed through Calumet, it looked like real life Jumanji - tons of ruins, big brick buildings, roofless cathedrals, engulfed in trees growing up from the inside. The towering trees make the buildings look like square-shaped terra cotta planters. It relaxes me to watch Mother Nature win. The Overstory, again and again, isn’t just the book I’m reading, it’s the life I’m living. A man walks around Stanford campus. A couple cuts off an engagement. People are falling in love with trees.

  • I’m in Houghton, halfway up the Keweenaw Peninsula, parked under the huge bridge that seperates Houghton from Hancock. I walked down over some sharp rocks into the water like a pale praying mantis. My motions are jerky until I get in the water. Then I am free. Liquid. My watery self. I look up at the bottom of the bridge from underneath, floating on my back, watching cars pass by, and I consider how progress and destruction are often one in the same.

  • I spent a night under that bridge. A few other people were tramping there too and there was a public bathroom nearby, so I figured the hum of traffic was a small price to pay for safety, comfort and community.

  • I think: The Overstory is the best book I’ve ever read. Then I think: I think that about everything I’m reading, while I’m reading it. Then I think: Of course. Such is the power of the present moment. It’s the best moment. How could it be any other way? Then I think: What does it matter if something stays with us? Then I think: Well, if that’s not the measure, what is?

  • I return, again and again, to this epigraph, by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

The greatest delight which the fields and woods minister, is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and the vegetable. I am not alone and unacknowledged. They nod to me, and I to them. The waving of the boughs in the storm, is new to me and old. It takes me by surprise, and yet is not unknown. Its effect is like that of a higher thought or a better emotion coming over me, when I deemed I was thinking justly or doing right.

  • In my journal, I write: Make more epiphanies. In my journal, I write: Is that really smart or really stupid?

  • I write: Nature isn’t just an epiphany. It is the source of all epiphanies. I write: This is where you’ll find the answers: night sky, the trees, the water.

  • N waves me over to a campfire with eight or ten people huddled around. He says, “We’re all strays. Nobody knows anybody. You’ll fit in.” Three sentences. Three words each. Might apply to every interaction everywhere, always.

  • X has long, messy blonde hair and looks like she just stepped off the cover of Yoga Journal. She does yoga, in a bikini, fifteen feet in front of Sputnik as the sun comes up, before I’ve even had coffee. Eight hours later, we’re watching a live raggae band perform woozy covers of Billy Joel, Queen and Fleetwood Mac.

  • R is a potter who lives “deep in the woods.” Up here, that means really fucking deep in the woods. He doesn’t wear shoes or use bug spray. He laughs at bad jokes but not good ones. I met him in Marquette, examined his ceramic work - vessels that looked like ancient, Mesopotamian grenades. When we meet again, by chance, a hundred miles away, it doesn’t seem strange.

  • Deep into the night, I settle a debate about Jupiter with a compass I keep in my pocket and a night sky guide that I clipped from a newspaper five hundred miles ago.

  • Sometimes I think, These are my people. But usually I think, I’m getting closer to my people.

  • We talk about the Northern Lights - why they happen, when they happen, and what they do to the sky and the soul.

  • Around a different campfire, I tell my ghost story. It’s one hundred percent true and it just happened recently, which makes it an easy story to tell.

  • I went to Eagle River on the night of July 3rd because I wanted to have a quiet 4th of July. But when I saw tents in the trees, a stage, dozens of porta potties, I changed my mind.

  • I use my spork to eat trailmix, granola, shredded coconut and raisins, mixed with agave nectar, in a mug.

  • A while ago, in Marquette, I was told to go to “The Fitz.” The advice fell out of my head almost as soon as it was given to me, but it comes back in vivid detail when I look up at the sign on the front of the building: Fitzgerald’s. It’s a beachy grey building with a back deck that extends right up to the sun-sparkling water. They don’t care that I’m just hanging around without a beer. I chill with the owner having absolutely no clue that he’s the owner. He acts like a junior bartender. Someone else has to tell me. The following morning, he greets me on the beach: “Hey Bill!” and I say, “What’s your name again? And how do you remember mine?” And he says, “Service industry. Gotta remember names.”

  • Forty white kids. An equal number of boys and girls, lots of light blonde hair, Trump stickers and signs, red hats galore, in six or seven crappy minivans and trucks on a scenic overlook. Making a ruckus for the sake of it. One car has a huge confederate flag. I almost say something. I’m still disappointed that I didn’t. This is the tenth time that has happened. Next time, I have my line ready: “Are you from the south? So what’s with the Confederate Flag? Isn’t that a southern thing?”

  • I take a picture in front of the massive “snow thermometer,” a tourist attraction, which rises hundreds of feet into the air. I try to imagine what this place looks like under several hundred feet of snow. How to they keep the roads clear? How did these purple wildflowers survive?