A few weeks ago, I was in the Benaroya Hall watching three judges discuss their choices for the AIA Seattle 2009. When the Mercer Slough Environmental Education Center was named as one of their four choices, this image appeared on the big screen above the judges:

The wood, the linked walkways, the blue on the roof, the dusky beyond—this arrangement filled my chest with a familiar feeling. For reasons I had never been able to pin, certain types of buildings (usually wood-warm and human in scale), in certain types of crepuscular moments (usually the very final minutes of the day), produced this feeling—part sad, part hopeful, part dream, part real, part human, part animal. In my mind, a line from James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake best expressed the feeling: "It darkles…all this our funnanimal world." Until that night at Benaroya Hall, that line was the closest I could get to an explanation of this feeling.

A moment after Mercer Slough appeared on the screen, and the feeling returned, a path to an answer opened. The path led to this realization: The reason why I feel this way when I see this type of building in the light of this type of dusk is because a me that is in some far future, a future world in which I'm no more myself but other things (a breeze, dust on a falling leaf, particles on the legs of a lost ant), is projecting onto this scene a weak memory of when I was what I am now—a human.

Being human is, of course, a particular gathering of particles made from the stuff of exploded stars. Indeed, as Lawrence Krauss pointed out during a recent lecture, the matter of my arms could come from completely different stars. Another image I like (this time from a cosmologist whose name has escaped my memory): A body entering a black hole, particle by particle, becomes a stream of matter. One more image (this time by the great microbiologist Carl Woese):

Imagine a child playing in a woodland stream, poking a stick into an eddy in the flowing current, thereby disrupting it. But the eddy quickly reforms. The child disperses it again. Again it reforms, and the fascinating game goes on. There you have it! Organisms are resilient patterns in a turbulent flow—patterns in an energy flow...
The pattern of energy in the turbulent flow can be a bug, a cloud of dust, a human body.

So, this is the meaning of the feeling I get from images of wood-warm buildings that are caught between the dog and the wolf, the magic hour: My present body is imagining that whatever it is in some far future, this thing (maybe a breeze in the air) comes across this building and this dusk, and for an instant, for a second or so it remembers that it was once a human, and this human world of rooms, windows, and walkways was once its world. Surprised by the realization, the breeze whips up—but there is not enough energy to grasp the memory. The breeze fades, the building remains, night falls, and the stars wonder the sky.

By the way, my talk this weekend at Hidmo, Pop Life, will not be about this feeling but something a little more concrete. One other thing, the image of Mercer Slough Environmental Education Center was supplied by the AIA.