The older I get, the more I forget.
What was the 21-year-old guy standing near a small copse of joshua trees in Death Valley thinking about, as the shutter clicked on an August afternoon in 1999?
For a kid from drizzly Athlone, Ireland, visiting the area, aware of some other Irishmen who claimed the joshua tree for themselves, must have been a big deal.
It was, but all that remains now is an ageing print, the negative lost, which is itself decaying. Is that a moon over my right shoulder, or just a mark on the print?
My shadow indicates that it was shot in the late afternoon. I can’t remember who took the picture – it was one of a group of friends I was travelling across the States with at the time. More to the point, I can’t recall where it was taken – though, given the heat, I’m sure it was just a few meters from the blacktop of highway 190.
Hindsight might tell me that is a photograph of a young man staking a claim of some sort – to an interest in the outdoors, or to a love of travel, or to the country where I would relocate to 17 years after this shot was taken.
It’s nice to think of such explanations, but, in truth, I’ve no idea. It’s more likely I wanted to get out of the 110 F heat and back into our air-conditioned van. (The only clear memory I have of this day is from hours later, when we approached Las Vegas as a lightning storm broke over the city.)
Looking back today, on finding the picture in an old folder, I see a kid starting out – on a journey across both a country and something vaster. I still feel like I’ve just started.
Which puts me in mind of a song we listened to in the van that summer:
There is a road, no simple highway
Between the dawn and the dark of night
And if you go no one may follow
That path is for your steps alone