My wife and I have often traveled the Pacific Northwest and one time pulled into a little town lined with antique stores, old fashioned news stands and funky little restaurants catering to the meat and potato crowd–sushi, are you kidding? After nosing around the town for a few hours the following missive came to me the next morning on the veranda of our lodgings:
Driving through town I pass beneath an ancient steel archway, a portal marker for a city hanging on to its past. Traffic is sparse and all moving in a single direction, much like, I imagine, most of the denizens of this little outpost bordering America’s past and future–pretty much all aligned in belief and values.
I parked along the curb across from a local antiquarian–a dealer in “the lost dreams of the dead” as the proprietor described himself to me before I wandered toward the back of his shop piled high with the bones of these dreams. I wandered narrow aisles displaying the technological wonders of a golden age where art and function united to create objects of magical beauty whose purpose have been lost to antiquity anticipating a Magus to caste just the right spell to animate them once again.
I wandered past objects in fine wooden cases, or Bakelite boxes, some with oddly shaped glass tubes–the instruments of a former alchemist’s dreams–ready to spring to life once more.
And there it was, center stage in a locked glass cabinet, the object of my quest, a century old device once used by student wizards to peer into a Lilliputian universe. It had a golden tube that seemed to glow with a fire of it’s own. It was to the rational mind a brass microscope, a beautifully machined tool of exploration and wonder. Excitedly I called to my wife who also marveled at the find and immediately offered to purchase it as a birthday gift.
As the proprietor dismantled the lenses from the scope and wrapped them in tissue and butcher paper for their protection, he shared some of his own past. As an engineer by training and vocation he spent a lifetime wielding the modern instruments of his trade and watched in despair as the world became more and more functional and plastic and losing it’s beauty to practicality. “Something had to be done.” He said almost pleadingly. “So today I’m here as a curator of the past, a preserver of history, if you will” he added with a look of hopefulness that I would understand and honor his purpose.
“Many who enter here don’t understand, they see pretty things that briefly hold interest, just as with anything else in this world of small attention spans and equally small ambitions. Some come here to steal so as to feed their habits, or their addiction to excitement. Others come to sell and bury their loved ones in a place they know will honor their memory.”
So, like the oarsman who ferried the dead across the river Styx, this man tends to the ghosts of human ingenuity, preserving and honoring their former meaning and the dreams they once represented. “There seems to be a soul attached to these things. The souls of their former owners I think.” He says as he ties the last string around the larger package. “Or perhaps the souls of their inventor, or maker.” I suggest while hefting the package that somehow seemed heavier. It was as though the item were emphasizing the new import of the dream I now took as my own. “Perhaps.” He said his eyes glistening as he carefully handed me the smaller package of lenses.
I thanked him, turned to go, and as I did so he rounded the counter so as to escort me through the door. “Thanks for caring.” He said and I walked out of the shop of wondrous visions and onto the streets of empty eyes–the unseeing eyes blinded to the magic all around, to the dream we are all living, and to the past that informs it’s future through the world of our present.