Back in the Garden State, my duffel bag jammed still-full into the back of the closet, I think of Eden and the apple I found half-finished in a ditch by the Parkway, its exposed edges brown as burned newsprint or antique parchment. Memorial day weekend in Princeton brings out modern Colonials in blue and white, red heart-shaped buttons holding their tail-flaps on as they unfold from their humming Volvos, lifting primly their oft-polished muskets from the ski-rack. On the way to humid fields prepped by rain for the re-enactment (that enchanted pretend-when of whimsical historians), Princetonians of all ages stroll by, orange and black as Tony the Tiger, rah-rahing the sedate parade that cheers down Nassau Street.
Mercer’s Oak, shot down by time, has been replaced by a fenced-in sprig, the few leaves flapping as large as hands on the wiry limbs. On the yellow-green square of field, the uniformed men fire a refurbished cannon gladly, elbows sharply out and fingers dug in their ears. A cat’s tongue of flame causes the grass to steam. A small boy in blue and white, with a special black stocking cap slapped angled on his head, advances sharply with the ammo for reloading. Retirees in straw boaters and orange-and-black blazers mill around the lemonade stand, the lone representative of commerce at this re-enactment, manned by two teenage girls texting and flirting with the sons of liberty. The crack report of the brass cannon makes everyone’s heads go up like a flock of storks wading for fish in the marsh.
There are rich black ruts in the earth where the cannon has maneuvered to the hilltop. The Redcoats it had once glared down upon in this field centuries ago have evaporated. There are only ghosts to shoot at now, and only the memories of adventure to chew and meditate upon. The wind that came sweet and odd down the back of Half Dome, fresh as a morning fern in the Pleistocene, is stilled. California is for lovers and others, those dressed-up beings who people my dreams, my dramas. The cannon bangs again, flaring its terrible flame. The lemonade is cold and good–the crystalline frost that lives inside the uncleaned freezer in August.