It has been a little over a year since I came to Seattle. It was an unfamiliar place back then, and I was here for an unfamiliar reason. I hadn’t come here for job, or a job interview, or to study, or a touristy thing, or to spend a couple of weeks with an uncle, aunt, or a cousin who had an apartment I could crash in, or any other reason I had flown into an unfamiliar place for. It has only been a year from then, and this is one of the most familiar places I have even been in. It makes me wonder how a place becomes familiar.
Such familiarity could come from similarity with other places. “Damn, it’s just like Germany,” I thought as I looked out of the plane at the hilly, evergreen expanse below with winding roads and patches of houses here and there. Germany was the only place I had been more familiar with that looked like that from a thousand feet.
"No no no, It is more of a cross between America and Germany," I revised my thought as I saw a bunch of high rises and felt the lack of leg room as I leaned closer to the window to spot the Space Needle. After flying into New York City several times over the years on economized planes with egregiously limited leg room, that was my concept of America from a thousand feet. Yet, once on the ground, the place felt quite unfamiliar, different, and a few days in I stopped comparing it to other places.
If not through similarity, then such familiarity could come through people. As you get to know more and more people of the place, the place could become familiar. A random street you drive through to stop over at a grocery store becomes a street a good friend lives on after you have been over at his place a couple of times. An anonymous apartment complex suddenly becomes familiar once your college buddy sojourns there for a few months. People make a compelling case until they leave and you see the place return to its cooler, unfamiliar feel. The friend moves and after a while, the street becomes the street to the grocery store. The college buddy leaves town, and the apartment complex becomes anonymous again. The place never truly becomes familiar. It just appears so contextually, temporarily.
It could come down to the amount of time spent, but then again, a year is not enough to feel that a place is one of the most familiar places given that you I have spent more time in other places too.
But this is not a pointless investigation. This place is definitely familiar. Downtown Bellevue is familiar although I do not really go in there very often now, University Way is familiar although I don’t work there anymore, Belltown is familiar although I just stayed there for a couple of days almost a year ago and only visit it occasionally.
The common thread between all these places that makes them independent of the people I could associate with them or the time I spent there, is the various states on mind I have been in in when I have been at those places. I have walked up and down University Way in a state of shock when a key team mate in the company quit days before launch; in a state of stress when stuff broke down and didn’t work; in a state of euphoria when it came back together and did work; in a state of peace when it did not break again for a while. I know what University Way looks and feels like when I am there shocked, stressed, euphoric or peaceful. Just like that, I know what Belltown feels like when I am feeling hopeless, uncertain, ecstatic, and relieved. And I know how Downtown Bellevue feels like when I am energized, fulfilled, surprised, weak, or broken.
These are places truly familiar to me. The relationship is direct. It is a relationship between the place and myself. It is not arbitrated by external things like time, and people, but by internal things, one of which is human emotion.
Let not the snowfall put you off from going on a trail. Things are clearer when all you can hear is nature and your own heartbeat. http://ift.tt/1gumTlA
There is a flag atop the Eli, the tall apartment building on Church Street by the Courthouse, behind Timothy Dwight College. It is one of the many things you see everyday in the backdrop but not notice, like the bikes parked by your entryway, the parking meters, the birds. It was just one of these things for me till I saw it on the night of my first ever snowstorm. It was the only thing that was neither static nor silent when the rest were getting steadily covered in white without offering any resistance. It seemed taut, distraught. I could hear it brave the wind in the silence of the night.
The next morning was calm. The flag was still there, waving casually, just as it did on any other day, but it was no longer like the bikes by your entryway, the parking meters, the birds. It had more weight, a greater presence, gravity, and command. I was at the window to see what had become of it after the storm first thing in the morning. And I stayed there for a while just looking at it curiously.
It became a daily ritual to look at it while walking across the courtyard on the way to class, and then again in the evening on the way to dinner. It was like a pulse, indicating the passage of time and the ebb and flow of things. It was also a totem for the ability to endure. Sometimes, after a rough day I would sit on the bench to look it at for longer than usual. Sometimes I would even notice some signs of wear and tear. I was never sure if they were actually there or if they were simply artifacts of expectation.
As we leave this town to start in the uncertain “real” world, we can be certain about the snowstorms, the passage of time, the ebb and flow of things. But we can also be certain about the ability to endure. A day may come when you and I feel some wear and tear and begin to doubt this certainty. On that day we may not even remember much of this place or of each other, but we should certainly make a trip to this town, sit on the bench for a few moments, and look at the flag atop the Eli.
“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.” - Rabindranath Tagore
Shot at Folly Island, South Carolina with a mobile phone. Sped up 200x.
by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if i should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference