Try 1 month for 99¢

Dear Governor Ducey,

I’ve always liked those counting songs that rhyme: “This old man, he played four, he played knick knack on my door” and “Baby, you can’t love one. Baby, you can’t love one, you can’t love one and have any fun oh, baby, you can’t love one.” It’s the 4th of July so I have “The ants go marching two by two, hurrah, hurrah” going through my head. My mom sang these songs while I was growing up, mainly while we drove in the car up to her hometown in Evanston from our house in Salt Lake. I’m in Salt Lake now. My mom and I are sitting on the back porch. She’s reading. I’m writing. Zoe and her cousin, Lily, are making cookies for a lemonade stand. They don’t want Max and their other cousin, Blake, to make the posters because they’re worried the letters will be illegible. But Max is a good writer and now he’s setting up the table while Zoe and Lily finish making chocolate chip cookies.

My mom’s house has a perfect backyard with green grass and an apple tree, maple tree and honey locust tree. I might die of nostalgia for a backyard I never even had. I grew up here, but in the foothills in a new subdivision where the trees were short and the fences tall and the traffic for lemonade light.

Nostalgia can be a complicated idea. The simple view is that nostalgia is a sentimental yearning for the past. But a more complex version is a yearning for a past outside one’s own memory—an imaged vision of the past. This backyard is not the backyard of my childhood or even the backyard at my grandma’s house, although it reminds me of hers a little. I don’t remember running a lemonade stand although I did bake Tollhouse cookies. When I was Zoe’s age, I was very different from her. I watched boys play video games. I rode my bike ceaselessly around the block.

I’m reading Timothy Morton’s book “Being Ecological” where he explains that one of the troubles with thinking about climate change is it makes us anxious because we don’t know what the future holds. We don’t want to think about it because we want to either go back to a time where we didn’t think about climate change or ahead to a time when we know how it turns out or when we can figure out what to do. Not knowing what will happen sucks, but Morton argues that handwriting is part of the process. That letting us sit for awhile and think about the trouble, letting the anxiety mount is how we will learn something—maybe learn to fix it, maybe just learn to live with it.

Nostalgia isn’t just escapism either. Thinking about a past that we didn’t really have is how we go about making a future that creates that feeling of an ideal past. Through nostalgia we can imagine making a future that feels as good as nostalgia seemed to feel. It’s an oxymoron—the satisfaction that comes from that kind of longing.

It’s all I think most of us want for our kids. The kind of childhood we feel nostalgic for—whether we approximated that childhood ourselves or not.

It’s a pretty privileged situation, being able to sit here with my mother in Salt Lake City. I missed the Keeping Families Together protests today because I just got to town. In this little bubble of a backyard, the temperature has never been more perfect and the hummingbirds are sipping nectar out of the trumpet vine and I got to eat a little bit of cookie dough. I feel a little guilty and handwringing-y but also a little nostalgic for this moment that I wish every single person on this planet could imagine and also get to experience. We can’t feel hopeless every day. We can’t feel despair for what we can’t give and guilt for what we do have every day. We have to enjoy the tiny, good things that happen so when we get back into the fight, the letter writing, the canvassing, the voting, we remember what we’re fighting for, for ourselves and for everyone. We have to believe it, and maybe even see it, to spread it. It’s not 78 degrees outside in Salt Lake City in June in the middle of the day very often. It is incumbent upon us sometimes to sit outside, listen to the kids make lemonade and stare at the apple trees and imagine this past into a future when we can.

Subscribe to Breaking News

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Nicole Walker is an associate professor at Northern Arizona University, and is the author of Quench Your Thirst with Salt and a collection of poems, This Noisy Egg. She edited, with Margot Singer, Bending Genre: Essays on Creative Nonfiction, and is the recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment from the Arts. The thoughts expressed here are hers alone and not necessarily those of her employer. For more letters, visit


Load comments