It’s easy to lose track of time in an attic. None of the things stored in all of the attics I’ve known are needed for daily life and only a few of them, like Christmas decorations, will ever get used. What makes the things stored in attics worth keeping are memories. During summer family vacations in Massachusetts, I spent a lot of time in my grandparents’ attic. Behind a door in one of the upstairs bedrooms was a steep flight of stairs, painted white, that led to what was to me, as a young boy, a cavernous room. It stretched the full length of the house and had a vaulted ceiling, intricate with rafters and collar ties. The stillness of the space and the angled shaft of sunlight from a narrow sash window setting the dusty air aglow made the attic seem like a cathedral. What I remember most about the things stored there was my grandfather’s Army uniform, especially the stiff leather puttees, molded to fit the shape of his calves. It was one of the first things in my life that gave me a sense of history and the value of things that came well before my time.The attic in my house is not nearly as grand, just a low wedge of space tucked under the roof on the north side of the house. While it is lined with kraft-paper-backed insulation, it is just as much a repository of memorabilia. Many of the cardboard boxes there are filled with photographs—prints from my teens and twenties, and slides for the years since then. There are so many albums, trays, and sleeves full of slides that I keep a light box on the floor, butted against a windowless end wall.A few days ago, I stooped through the chest-high attic door to find something, I don’t now remember what, and sat down next to the light box. It comes on when I flip the switch for the attic lights, and the clutter of slides on the table gleamed with patches of color, like a crude stained-glass window. I was drawn to a group of warm pale-blue rectangles, slides I had taken during a 2002 kayaking trip to Palau in the Western Pacific.

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