26 August 2018

Disappeared (Part 3)

Traipsing around the rooftops and decrepit, debris-laden concrete slabs of these industrial relics swiftly became a favorite pastime on weekends when the weak acid of involuntary solitude became too much to bear. Post-abandonment dilapidation birthed a fascinating scenery rich in opportunities for the eye and the lens. Therapy in an office setting has its benefits, but there is a wealth of prophylaxis in capturing broken beauty as it displays in sunlight or outlined in snow.

The plainness of that notion hit with the force of divine revelation one winter morning as I stood shivering on frosted grass. My fingers and toes were going numb after some hours of snapping pictures before the sun raced too high. The camera was behaving strangely. It was hesitating, as if critiquing my choice of composition through fits of mechanical petulance. Thoughts of getting back to the car with its heater crowded my brain. I was determined to get just one more shot. Angle was set, button was pushed, the shutter leaf unfurled. Then the camera buzzed, and died. It gave up. I took this as a sign it was time to go home, reckoning the final image of the day was in the can.

The camera was freezing. That much was obvious. It returned to life upon resting in the warmth of my apartment. As it turned out, that last frame revealed itself to be one of the best photographs of a building I have ever taken. Best by my personal reckoning, anyway. Tone. Mood. The marks of time plainly visible in the stone facade with its windows like empty eyes. The pathos and faded dignity of it, shot in black and white, touched my mind and my heart in ways catalytic to the appreciation of beauty in decay.

That slice of infinity pushed away the indecisiveness that kept me from taking a deep dive into the interior. An expedition was planned and executed.

My boots scraped across cracked concrete. A peculiar crunching sound arose, a byproduct of the rubble and debris strewn across the loading dock. A faint breeze wafted out of the black hole in the wall in front of me. The tang of machine oil and mildew stung my nostrils. To the left and straight ahead I could see almost nothing beyond the first ten feet, faintly lit by the background sunlight that seeped in under the dock roof. To my right the inside of the building glowed with soft luminescence, refulgency tinged with green. I had made up my mind that I would determine the source of that light. All I had to do was walk about seventy feet through dank, unlit space.

I had, on previous occasions, stood and stared into that blackness. That there were parallels in my life away from the ruins did not occur to me at the time. Seems obvious now. Gaping holes, darkness, surrounded by crumbling remains. My attraction to it perhaps driven by the familiarity of it. I felt at home amongst the corporeal reality of the factory. Mirrors. I stood before the black holes in the walls and gazed into mirrors. When I left the world I had known for nearly twenty years, expelled by life gone sour, I crossed the Rubicon into a new decade of despair and ecstasy, of wisdom and ignorance, of beauty and ugliness. All of which I was totally unprepared for, but there was no way to go but forward.

The basic problem was that, for all my planning, I neglected to bring a flashlight. Nor did I have a hard hat. More deference to prudence would have kept me out of the building, but curiosity was beating the daylights out of caution. I took off at a brisk walk across the concrete toward the light.

It didn’t take long before I nearly fell flat on my face. Protruding from the floor was an anchor bolt, unseen by me due to the gloom. It snagged the leading edge of my right boot. The hangup caused a stumble. I windmilled my way through the dark, in what I am sure was a hilarious parody of a bat as I flailed my arms in a desperate bid to maintain balance and avoid face-to-concrete contact. Curses echoed off the walls to be soaked up by the darkness.

I skidded to a halt not far from the edge of the glow that was my destination. I caught my breath, heartbeat pulsing in my ears as the surprise of the near-fall wore off. At this point it was laugh worthy, so I did. More echoes in the cavern of light which revealed itself to be a broad, deep space populated with wooden columns. The green tinged light emanated from above. A series of serrated vaults formed a sawtooth roof above, half of which was formed of translucent fiberglass panels. Age, neglect, and dirt had given the once white panels their green hue.

In that mausoleum light, time, pulse, and thought decelerated. I heard the susurrus of blood whispering to the vessels in my ears. As far as I could tell, I was the sole human being in the building. In a flight of fancy, I thought maybe I was the only human being on earth. There were no others, yet the traces of those had been were in abundant evidence. Industrial-era hieroglyphs patterned the walls, spray bomb celebrations of invective, insults, and crudity. I stepped forward to study them, puffs of glassy dust rising from beneath my boots. It was here in this temple that I began my rites of transformation. I was ignorant of that which waited for me in the ruined black.

19 August 2018

Disappeared (Part 2)

Chemical drums and plastic shards. Shattered glass and crumbling brick. The gloom in part alleviated by the acid brightness of graffiti. Anarchist artwork that ranged from the sophomoric to the sublime. A fish mural, glowing orange and blue, graced one section of wall. One had to admire the dedication it took to spend (presumably) personal time and resources to trespass on a closed brownfield site for the sake of creating (presumably) unsanctioned art. Especially art that had high probability of erasure or burial or demolition. Yes, it takes determination to enrich that which is demonstrated to be falling to pieces.

The full scope of the mural, I discovered later, could best be taken in from across the river, particularly when the leaves were off the trees. It was possible to stand on the far bank and see the fish in a better light. One that was less obscured by the unfocused scrawls of less talented artists. I would come to know this in future winters. There were icy days when I stood on that far bank with cold toes and stiff fingers clutching a camera. Memory has it that the fish were viewed through a cloud of breath escaping from weary lungs. Weary eyes, too, but relieved to see such color in the brown opalescence of January gloom.

But winter gets ahead of the story of how this collection of things that no longer exist came about. The genesis truly was, as perhaps it should be, in the morning of a spring where rebirth seemed impossible. Camera as filter and shield on a journey of sanity preservation.

Stygian days of the heart often lead the mind off the path of light. It steps into the shadows of belief that everything comes from muck and descends into muck despite our best intentions or actions. Refuting that view is difficult when standing in front of collapsed walls or shuffling through cast off machine parts begrimed by carbon and waste chemicals. Darkness comforts and deceives. The proof of this is in a pulling away from the gravity of decay to view the framework of nature that surrounds it.

The brownfield was between a road and a river, nestled in a valley of forested slopes. The last regular activity of industry occurred sometime in 1972 before a tropical storm created a catastrophic flood that virtually wiped out industry along the river. The marks of it could still be seen up close and from far away. Green things grew on the sagging roofs and creviced walls. The heart would leap at the sight of a bright yellow flower atop an emerald green stalk growing out of the muck collecting in the cavity of a half-shattered concrete block. Nature will take what it wants. Nature will reclaim its own.

Nature and its juxtaposition against the disintegration of the man-made struck the singing bowl of my soul. I was unaware of that in the early days of my infatuation with these ruins, blithely ignorant of the mirror into which I was staring. My marriage was all over but for the shouting. My exhausted heart fractured into jagged shards through which my mind staggered ripped and bleeding. Darkness called loud in the ears. The ruins offered strange, new familiarity. Comfort amongst the grime and contamination left behind, where things seemed no different than in the matrix of my life.

The paperboard factory, for that is what it used to be, was an accretion of structures over time. The shells of this leviathan were a mottled testament to old stone and brick, concrete and plywood, asphalt shingles and membrane roofing. Shifts in technology and funding could be read in the skin where it wasn’t hidden under a veil of graffiti. Many hours were spent perusing the outside before the nerve was worked up to enter any portion of the buildings.

Green things grew in abundance in, on, and around these monuments to disintegration. Many were presumably what many would call weeds, but what they lacked in pure aesthetic appeal they made up for in tenacity. I suppose my subconscious mind picked up on that vibration. It drew me in. In the cool spring and sodden summer, vines climbed the walls. Great leafy bunches sprouted from the ground, floppy green things suggesting the ears of aliens. Flowers, too, could be found. Some petite and understated while others were flamboyant in their colors and floral countenance. Yellow flowers in particular made a show of it at certain points in the year.

There is comfort to be found in the company of these growing things. The threads that channel poetry to a bruised heart are limned by the living evidence before it. The river calms the mind. The blossoms convince it that survival, even prosperity, are possible after disaster and collapse. The birds will tell you this, if you hold still and listen.

I listened to the birds for weeks. They were good company as I made my way around the perimeter of the factory grounds. Vistas abounded thanks to the positioning of the site, sandwiched as it was between the road and the river. The river side was low. The road, literally, was the high road. The buildings had been built at such an elevation that it was possible to step off a retaining wall and onto an upper floor or a rooftop. By such measures I eased my way onto the structures without completely entering them.

Entering them wholly came later, once familiarity banished apprehension. It happens when the urge to satisfy curiosity overcomes the fear of the unknown. It is something the broken heart knows also.

12 August 2018

Disappeared (Part 1)

I have in my possession a collection of places that no longer exist, except in the reservoir of memory, held to a bifurcated existence composed of pixels and neurochemicals. These outlines and shadows etched into silicon and grey matter were placed there during a series of life-saving (read: sanity-preserving) series of trips I began nearly a decade ago and which have continued in one form or another up until the present day. These trips collected a lot more of the no longer extant in the early years than they did in later ones. A function of the demolished, the broken down, and ultimately the hauled away. Not unlike the interior landscape that drove me to such measures, with camera in hand and fevered brain in skull.

The circumstances are grounded, as existence tends to be, in the placement of things in nature. This was unknown to me at the time. What was known was the need for nature, in some form. So it was to the river valley I went searching for solace, or at least a good walk in the company of trees. The mellifluous voice of water a siren call to ears sore from the arctic groans of hearts becoming ice. In a green place such as this I came upon ruins and abandonment and shock to my system. The river had once been witness to its own poisoning by careless hands that handled money like the bones of saints, and nature like slaves.

The river runs between two counties. The ruins straddled the river nearby to a road, which itself straddles the river by dint of a bridge, and is in turn straddled by a railroad line which crosses the road and the river via a trestle. The trestle is an early 20th century sculpture of wrought iron, rivets, and creosote timber. It is covered in chipped black paint, graffiti, and rust. It is beautiful. Rough, industrial, clearly the result of hard work and perseverance. To complete this compound skein of machinery and nature, the trestle abuts an escarpment punctured by a brick-lined tunnel boring its way through the hill overlooking the waterway. To rejuvenate ones’ self try contemplating silence while standing in the tunnel mouth in the early morning, as light begins to fill the valley. Do not fret about possible trains. They will announce their presence in plenty of time for you to move.

It was in that tunnel mouth one spring morning that I wept at the loss of a life I had known for over two decades. There was no trigger in particular with the possible exception of the water dripping from the begrimed brick arch looming overhead. The intent of that morning was to venture into the ruins with a complement of cameras, to photograph sunlight on dereliction and decay. And to search for green things amongst the rubble. My subconscious had other ideas up front. It steered me to climb the embankment up to the tracks. The tunnel beckoned. I crossed the river carefully, with boots scraping the ties, eyeing the river below through the gaps. Venturing a short way into the tunnel mouth felt like stepping into a nave. There were no trains nor people. I could worship alone.

It may be that the spirit of God reached into me for a brief moment. It could have been my soul adjusting to the new emotional vacuum manifesting itself where part of my heart used to be. The hollowness pulsing against my sternum like some broken bellows desperate to fan flames that would never propagate. In the damp dark of the tunnel the only light was far away skewered by the burnished rails converging behind me. The rails and a dank draft pushed me out of the tunnel mouth to retrace my steps over the trestle.

Brokenness. Collapse. A slow-motion lean into this box canyon of life. It was that state of mind that enveloped me as I approached the nearest building, one of several in the complex that stretched maybe a half mile along the riverbank. The end was a loading dock. The canopy over it sagged at one end, a drunken tip of the hat wrought in corroded corrugated sheeting. An overflowing dumpster sat in a puddle of rust-stained water nearby. The roll up doors appeared locked. A chain link fence with padlocked gates had been installed across the driveway between the building and the river. The gates hung slightly open, having been pulled just enough to allow a human body to slip between the posts. A well-worn path led through them, and another path took an end run around the fence post closest to the riverbank.

Ruins haunted my dreams. The pull of industrial decay in the real world was just too strong to resist. I laughed at the suggestion from the fence that it should keep me out. The paths beckoned, I listened. Around the fence I went.

05 August 2018

Highway of Diamonds

Pressure and heat under the earth’s crust are not the sole arbiter of gemstones. They can be seen on the surface of the sea. The ripples, the argentine scintillations as wind caresses the water. Diamonds are there for the taking, if we so choose. Still, there is no setting nearly as grand as that which is out there in nature. Beauty is in the beholding, not in the possession. Road trip the water and see.

In a harbor alive with boats one would not expect too many water bound intersections with nature, given the noise and crowding into the realm below the surface. While not expecting to walk across the water on the backs of teeming schools of fish, a sighting of fish or crab would still be appreciated. Patience is key. One’s legs may dangle over the water, but sit still. Breathe slowly. Keep your eyes on the surface. Sometimes, if the timing is right and fortune on the breeze fish breach the surface right where you look. Is that kismet? Sheer luck? Unknowable, but good fortune nonetheless.

What is the market value of the cry of an osprey, circling over the estuary, pirouetting with its mate? No one knows, and no one should ever try putting a number on such a gift. To hear it is to be enriched beyond the pale of crass commerce. Putting it in the prison of a bank would do the same thing to the soul. If you hear it, stop. Pay attention. Give thanks. Consider the wealth bestowed upon you. The account of your being will be far into the black.

Non-monotonous regularity is one of the most prominent attractions of the water. Surf, rapids, the tides. Their arrival can be predicted, their aspects cannot. At least not with narrow specificity to any individual manifestation. There will be waves, there will be ripples, no two exactly alike. The ebb and flow of them as a grand generator of serenity and connection to primordial forces without which humans would not exist. This is the fractal metronome setting the rhythm of existence.

Let us not forget the raspy music of crows in all this. Consider the murder swirling around the church steeple, birds in raucous congress as they perch on the weather vane. The inky feathers against an incipient storm sky may seem ominous to casual observance. But if the mind can hold still long enough to contemplate the ciphers formed by the fluttering of ebony, it will see that rain and crows are simply nature unfolding as it should. If crows have a reputation as harbingers of doom it is fair to say that is only because they have a curiosity about and are thereby drawn to the activities of mankind. It is fair to say that men are far more responsible for murder and mayhem than are those fine specimens of the corvid masses.

Consider the pilings along the water’s edge. Turned timber soaked in creosote or some other delayer of decay. At the tide line can be spotted barnacles or sometimes mussels. Ducks weave in and out amongst the industrial thicket of wood. They seem to enjoy the interplay of light, shadow, and water as they fulfill their duck nature. Here too we await the good luck, the grace of glimpsing Callinectes sapidus, the “beautiful savory swimmer” humans call the blue crab. A deserved reputation as delicious eating, but also fascinating and lovely swimmers. Occasionally they take it upon themselves to venture forth from the estuary bottom and bestow upon us the brief spectacle of their underwater aerobatics. If you do see such a thing, remember to bow your head in humble thanks.

Earth tangos with the Moon. The energy of that dance translates to the tides that burnish the shore. You will know this when you walk along its edge, breathing the scent of saltwater and pluff mud. No noisome vehicle is needed to make this trip. What is needed is a present mind and open heart, willing to take the gift of creation laid out before them. All you have seen and heard will reveal that to you, as the sunlight on the water makes clear. Life on this highway of diamonds is not measured in carats mined, it is measured in gratitude expressed.