It never ceases to amaze me how memory works. I regularly wonder at what point the brain moves a piece of information to the far-back storage area; the one that needs only a brief review class for it all to come flooding back into the immediately-retrievable information area of the brain again. How long of not using the information does the brain let it sit up front, before sending the information to the middle ground and then finally to the back storage grounds?
You see, the summer after my first year in college, I did an internship (paid, of course, and sponsored by Shell) with a park conservancy. I had no background in trees and plants, but I told my eventual boss how I was genuinely interested in them and learning more about them. And so began my adventure of studying, researching, and identifying and plotting trees in a local park. My co-intern and I really took the studying to heart, and we would look up the most detailed pieces of information regarding tree identification for our area – fun fact: she wasn’t even from the south, but she learned all about our plants and trees, anyway. Sometimes, we’d learn distinctions that couldn’t even be found in some tree identification books, they were so specific and unique. We would discuss thoroughly what we though a tree was, based on the bud beginnings that were visible on the tree, and then have our boss verify for us what it was. And we loved it all.
By the end of the internship, we could walk around the park and identify any tree around us, almost immediately (there were a couple that had only a tiny difference, and so we had to check for a hint of color underneath the leaves in order to tell which was which). I enjoyed greeting the trees by their species names. Hey, Live Oak. How are you doing today? I’m really happy to see you here. I hope you stay around for years and years to come. Wherever I went in the area (Houston/Southeast Texas), I identified what trees crossed my path, and I enjoyed it. Riding my bike home from work was like a scavenger hunt of What kinds of trees can I find today? My brother and sister-in-law would send me photos, asking me to help them identify trees in Wisconsin. I didn’t know most of the trees, but I knew what parts I needed to see in order to find the trees in tree logs, and I got to work once I had the needed photos. It was fun for me, and I did far more than was necessary in terms of identifying trees.
Now to this afternoon.
I found myself just staring at these buds. It was cold out, but I didn’t seem to care for a couple minutes. I didn’t even seem to care about the conversation in which I had been participating. I walked right up to these buds and just admired them. It felt as though I was waiting for a name to come to mind, so I could finish the mental thought of Hello, … But I knew I didn’t know the name that went with these buds. I eyed the buds, but somehow didn’t dare examine them properly, look for things I once sought out for identification purposes – I didn’t want yet another verification of the fact that I’d forgotten almost everything, even though they weren’t necessarily buds for a tree (I know that sounds crazy, but it is totally possible. Trust me.).
I know that, if I only had a brief refresher, I’d be good again on all the identifications. I still recognize so many of the trees, without even trying to do so… I just have no more names. I remember only four names, and can only really identify two of them perfectly (Live Oak and Chinese Tallow) – I think they might have been the first two I ever remembered, so they were kind of special for me… plus, they’re kind of everywhere in the Houston area, which is probably why I learned them first.
Anyway… memory is interesting, and today it had me a little on the mellow side of nostalgic, wishing I still could identify trees effectively, even though I can’t quite tell why it ever would matter, my being able to identify trees.