Craig Nagel, columnist
Strange, how an object can conjure up old memories. You see it half-concealed beneath a patina of dust and cobwebs, lift it up, wipe it off, and the recollections arise before you like a genie released from Aladdin's lamp. It doesn't matter what the object is. A baby's shoe, a baseball mitt, a certain cup - all possess the power to propel you back across the years to a half-forgotten patch of time. Once there, the memories come flooding in.
Last week our oldest grandchild set off for college. We hugged him, told him how proud he makes us and wished him well. In the days since he left, I've been thinking a lot about the act of learning. There are many notions of how best to help a person learn. For many years, the dominant theory was pure drill. By repeating something over and over and over, the student was bound (eventually) to find the information drummed, as it were, into his or her memory.
You've heard all about it by now: the Perseids are coming. Summer's meteoric light show, visible especially to northerners, the Perseids begin appearing near the end of July and grace the night sky through much of August. To see them, you have to be willing to forego a bit of sleep. Best viewing is after midnight and on through the wee small hours. Obviously you also have to leave the luxury of your house and get outside, but that's all part of the fun.
On a recent trip to the little town in Illinois where I grew up, a particular building caught my eye and triggered a cascade of boyhood memories. Situated in the center of town, across Main Street from the train station, the building is built of red brick and once housed two places of business. One was a shoe store. The other was Josie's Cafe, which opened the year I turned 11.
There's something about the textures of summer that makes you remember the days of your youth. The trickle of sweat running down your side, the tang of a just-picked tomato, the night sounds of whip-poor-wills and tree frogs and billions of bugs - all conspire to hurtle you back through the years to the summers when you were a kid.
What follows is a chapter of my newest book, "Looking Back," to be published in early August. Back in the 1950s, summer unfolded slowly and seemed to last much longer than its allotted three months. One of the high points was the Fourth of July.
When I was a young boy living in Chicago, my mom and I often spent time at Grandpa's summer cottage some 50 miles north of the city. Dad was gone overseas fighting some fellow named Hitler, and Mom had to work during the week to make ends meet, but on weekends, if we had enough gas stamps, we'd drive out to the cottage.
Trying to get Americans to agree on any given topic is like trying to form an orderly herd of cats or frogs or wood ticks. It's just not gonna happen - or if it does, it won't stay that way for long. Given that fact, I think it's nearly miraculous that our citizenry and its leaders were once inspired to set aside a sizeable amount of land in public ownership with the thought of keeping it that way forever.
By now you've probably heard something about Peter Wohlleben and his amazing book, "The Hidden Life of Trees." In case you haven't, read on. Wohlleben, a German forester of many years experience, has topped best-seller lists with his contention that our commonly held understanding of trees and their networks of interaction paints a distorted picture of the truth.
As we all know, life's not easy. Sometimes winter lasts much too long and treats us much too harshly. Given that fact, it may be childish to turn away from hurtful memories and choose, instead, to immerse your cranium in siliceous granules (put your head in the sand), but what the heck. Some of life oughtta be fun. I recently rediscovered a list of common phrases all dressed up in verbal finery and found the task of trying to decipher them a pleasant diversion. Like the long-awaited arrival of spring, spending time in the pursuit of trivia may help us heal emotional wounds.