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.

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"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...