Megan Kimble On Noticing

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Kimble discovers a new vocabulary in the desert, finding new objects behind the words @ Precipitate Journal. I had gone for a run along the dry Rialto Riverbed late in the afternoon. I started late enough that when I turned back west, the Catalina Mountains hummed with red on brown, glowing stubbornly against the dissipating colors of a desert sunset. It had been a long run, and I was relieved to see the lights of Trader Joe’s approach as I jogged along the blackening path towards my car waiting in the parking lot. Trader Joe’s sucked me in for forty minutes (with its bright displays of bounty and sugar), and by the time I walked back to my car, the salicylic acid had settled in my legs and the sweat on my t-shirt had dried into a cold clamminess. The three canvas totes went into the trunk, and as I eased back into the front seat of the Civic, I saw the moon crest over the ridge of the Catalinas: a full moon, or close to it. I don’t know if it’s the change of place—paved-over Los Angeles to scrappy Tucson, where the desert can’t help but poke through—or the change of daily curriculum—part-time mailroom assistant at a dying newspaper to a full-time reader-learner at a thriving university—but I notice that I’m “noticing” more. 

Even as I groan under the pile of books on my desk, I’m learning how to read my landscape as one of these books. The narrative has sucked me in: How do people live in the desert? This is the first place I’ve lived where I understand the vocabulary of place as it extends beyond street signs and buildings. I acquire this new vocabulary, and the landscape shifts to reveal the objects behind these words. I learn slowly, but the slowness with which I un-layer the landscape doesn’t diminish the delight of its revelations. After weeks of riding my bike through the University of Arizona campus, I look up and notice the pods on the trees covering the bike path outside the Modern Languages Building, and I remember buying mesquite tortillas from a woman at the Santa Cruz farmer’s market. 

Now I see that these pods look similar to those pods, and I realize, seeing a complete image of leaves and trunk and branches, that these shady things are not just trees but mesquite trees. I am embarrassed to discover this because surely everyone knows a mesquite tree when they see one, but the embarrassment disappears because my discovery is private. It’s thrilling.

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