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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Local History

I am typing this in the offices of Petaluma High School, where I will soon meet students who were involved with the National Park Service Memory Trail project:
Student here mde voice thread recordings of what change they want to make during their lives. I am here to prompt them to look back, at the changes in the last 150 years that led us to where we are now. I drove here from Palo Alto, and the brown hills of Marin Country brought back strong memories. Due to an aunt in San Francisco, I spent several summers here — and so those hills look familiarly unfamiliar. That is, I recall so many drives through them, and then also how different they seemed from the green interupted by buildings and streets of the East.

Place — that is what I want the students to think about — the way we experience history today is through flat images — screens, books, places where an Angry Bird, a Civil War photo, a scene from a protest in Wall St. today are all images. But history happened in 3-d, real people in real places. That is what the NPS offers — hills, homes, streets: places where historical events transpired. I think that when you stand in a real site two things happen: in one sense that past is more fully gone — just as a trip to a cemetary reminds you that that loved one is gone, not there, an absence not a presence. But in another way, going to a site reminds you of scale — a person like you, a person who stood here, who fit this space as you do, changed something, did something — and thus is not an image in a textbook, not name or a date, but a person who made a choice — as you have your choices, your decisions to act. Their space is not so different from yours — it is unfamiliarly familure — like this round brown hills.