Have you noticed how emotional association with a “place” can strengthen memories of it? Like the college cafeteria where I dropped my tray: The sound of dishes and utensils hitting the hard floor, followed by snickers and scattered applause from my friends… My memory skates right back on the feeling of embarrassment.
Years later, in early September of 1997, my family was on vacation in the Pacific Northwest. We spent two days at Crater Lake in Oregon—a crystal-clear lake in the caldera of an ancient volcano. The afternoon we arrived, we drove around the perimeter and stopped at various overlooks. I was in awe of the astounding beauty of the place, and amazed that we could see the other side, seven miles away.
We lingered at the overlook for Wizard Island, a volcanic cinder cone in the west end of the lake. It rises several hundred feet above the surface. Amidst this incredible beauty, and the happiness of being on a trip with my family, I felt sad; my heart heavy. I wasn’t alone in my grief—the world had been reeling from the death of an English princess for two days. I wasn’t a fanatical royal watcher by any means, but this compelling woman had been a part of my life since 1981.
I’d been traveling in England a few weeks prior to The Wedding. Every shop window displayed pictures and mementos of the royal couple, and my friends and I were caught up in the excitement. The day of the wedding, I turned on the television before dawn and watched her walk down the aisle in her fairytale gown. She’d been part of our culture ever since. “Always around” in television and print.
And now she was gone.
As I leaned against the guard rail and reflected on the demise of Diana, I formed an emotional connection to Wizard Island. To this day, that connection carries me right back: I see the rugged, conical-shaped island reflected in the glass-like water; the evergreens growing straight and tall; the expansive blue sky; my husband and kids nearby… It is an emotional swirl of grief, beauty and location.
There’s a purity of emotion when it is connected to “place.” As writers, we tap into this well of emotional truth—enriching our work with memories that are three dimensional, and details that are often as clear as the water in Crater Lake. Feelings of love, sorrow, joy, anger, embarrassment, happiness, accomplishment… Hop on and see where they take you. You just might find the detail you need.