“Down along the creek / I remembered something.”
I’ve spent a good amount of my life around creeks, or at least around bodies of water. My hometown’s essentially just a 1.2 square mile year-round campground that might actually have more water within its limits than dry land. No matter where they go, any person who grows up in Medford Lakes, New Jersey, has the privilege of carrying around in their heart and head a small trove of cedar-water-soaked memories formed down along the creek — from learning to swim, to their first kiss; from summer nights with friends, to their first beer, to their first skinny-dip, to their first…well, everything that comes after that.
It was November, 2016, and I’d been working in Philadelphia for about nine months. I was still living in Medford Lakes at the time and commuting, but some friends and I were closing in on signing a lease in the city, and between the commute, the long work hours and the inexplicable desire some early twenty-somethings have to spend as much time as possible in the nearest metropolis, I had begun the mental process of shifting the home-base of my life to Philly.
Mine, like so many other twenty-three year old’s, was a life in transit, and I was spending less and less time down along the creek.
So when the clock struck 6:00 PM on Friday night, I was relieved to see my phone alight with messages from friends — some of whom I had not seen in a long, long time — trying to slap-dash together some plans for the evening. We were all in different stages of our lives — some working, some in school, some local, some distant, some in relationships, some single, some doing that weird in-between thing called “dating”— but for whatever reason, that particular Friday night, we were all free, all thirsty and all in need of each others’ company.
Our plans came together quickly, almost unnaturally — the sort of plan-making that happens when you and all your friends want to do something, but have no idea what and frankly don’t care, as long as you’re together. One of us mentioned that they’d made plans to visit a craft brewery in Cherry Hill, and for no reason other than our need to see each other and soak the night in beer, the plan was cemented.
Now, the sub-header of this essay comes from a song called “715 — CRΣΣKS,” the perfect song to stand absolutely still within and let swallow you whole. It’s from 22, A Million, the now-largely-forgotten but still spectacular third full length release from Bon Iver, released in September, 2016. 22, A Million is a record that sounds exactly like its season; cold, but lush, like any clear autumn day, when the amber-and-rust colored leaves rustle between still-green grass and a cerulean sky.
“715 — CRΣΣKS” was the perfect soundtrack as I drove out of Philadelphia to meet my friends at Cherry Hill’s Forgotten Boardwalk Brewery, the bright white street lights lining Route 70 blasting the darkness from the road. The drive was a relatively short one, but darkness of the night added time — or at least, the feeling of it — and for twenty minutes or so, I had the the perfect music, the perfect drive and the perfect night ahead of me.
We came from all over the place, as scattered, trying-to-make-it-work friends in their early twenties tend to do when then need to forget the workweek and all the other inconvenient realities of the immediate post-graduate world. A few headlights flashed like split-second bursts of light against the frigid, pitch-black night as I pulled into the parking lot, “715 — CRΣΣKS” filling my tiny little 2015 Saturn Ion with thunder.
“Honey, understand that I have been left here in the reeds / but all I’m trying to do is get my feet from out the crease.”
The song wound down as, through a frosting-over windshield, I watched two of my friends head into the brewery — a few stragglers who, like I, were arriving after everyone else already had. And as the song gave way to silence, I found myself thinking about how calm we all were, despite the tumult around us — the panic to finish a degree, the panic to find work, the panic to move, all while avoiding acceptance of the fact that our collective adolescence had come to an end while we were doing all that panicking.
None of that really registered to any of us then. It still barely does now. I’ve always loved my friends, but in that moment, as I watched them exist in harmony with each other from across the parking lot of the Forgotten Boardwalk Brewery, I loved them. I loved them in a way that transcended our age, our stations in life, even our memories and personalities. I loved them; that they were. I understood, because they understood, and not a word had to be said about it.
It was so still. I was so still. It was lightning in a bottle.
I live in Philly now, and probably will for the foreseeable future. This city, like any, is a different planet, one whose geography, culture and inhabitants invite constant exploration and conceal countless cherished secrets. But I carry at the center of my heart the simple, split-second memory of lifting my head as the music wound down, and seeing such genuine harmony among the people with whom I’ve shared this journey. It is a singular moment that taught me that I don’t need to be in Medford Lakes to make memories down along the creek; I don’t need to be in any specific place at any specific time to catch life’s lightning in a bottle.
Because when lightning’s going to crash, it’s going to crash. So best just keep a bottle ready and try to catch it if you can, wherever you are. It’s the best way to remember how good, and rare, truly calm, pure moments tend to be.
And if you have it, letting “715 — CRΣΣKS” by Bon Iver wash over the moment probably won’t hurt.