On Saturday I went out on a local photography trip with my friend Phil. He and his daughter had found an abandoned house and barn just a little ways out of town, and Saturday morning had come on with an abundance of bright winter sunshine. It was a beautiful day for photography.
I’m not much of a photographer, but I love coming along on these excursions. While Phil may get some shots that he can sell as art photography prints, I just get a chance to step into a photographer’s shoes, and stepping into those shoes gives me an opportunity to view the world slightly differently. It’s refreshing, and I think that it benefits the creative mind. Since I’m still not writing with my previous regularity, it was a chance to get out and do something creative that had essentially no consequences.
It was about a twenty or thirty minute drive out, and the structures were on a working property… the structures were just broken down and no longer being used by the owner. They were at the near end of the drive, right off the road and outside of the gate to the rest of the farm.
The house was a simple, one story building covered in stucco that was once painted yellow. The door hung open, but was partially blocked by a tangle of stout blackberry canes. Some of them were almost an inch thick, indicating that the vegetation had not been disturbed for several years. Inside were a kitchen, a living room, a few bedrooms and a bathroom and a half-bath. A non-operational refrigerator stood against the wall in the livingroom, with a beaten up piano and a cast iron wood stove. In a nearby nook sat piles of books and old National Geographic magazines. There were patches of bright, relatively recent paint in some of the rooms, as if someone had tried to restore the property and had run out of time or money. The bathroom housed a big teal-colored bathtub, and in the light sockets above the mirror, someone had screwed in colored christmas light bulbs. Old jackets and an empty beer can or two were scattered through the hallways.
The kitchen had been stripped of all of its appliances, and the cupboards stood open. The hook board that covered almost a whole wall still held a collection of mismatched metal hooks. An empty kirsch bottle was on the counter, collecting spiderwebs. A filthy telephone was still hung on the wall, near a sticker imprinted with the number for the Sears repair department.
Outside, in the watery sunlight, paths led not through the vegetation, but over it… our footing was a trampled bed of yellowed grass which otherwise stood higher than my head. This was probably a good thing, since the soil here tends to be saturated and muddy through most of the year. There was a large open wood shed whose roof sprouted icicles and little ferns. The shed was stocked with new wood, from this year or from last.
The barn was an enormous structure, maybe forty or more feet high at the peak of its roof. The south end was all fallen in, succumbed to the weather here. The top of the door frame on the side of the building was just a little above my head, so we were standing around a foot higher than the ground had been when it was built. This sort of partial burial is not uncommon in old abandoned structures. Inside, the roof was in such poor shape that it looked like a night sky, studded with stars.
I love places like this. I’m fascinated by the homes and businesses that we leave behind to rot. I love how the surrounding slow riot of nature takes over, inch by inch after we leave. There’s a sort of a thrill to finding disused places, and there’s a peace to these dead and dying buildings. You imagine someone cooking Thanksgiving dinner in the kitchen, or a family gathered around the wood stove, which glows a homey and muted yellow orange through the little soot-stained window. You imagine horses huffing in their feed boxes in the barn; and in the face of these images, the abandoned place seems preternaturally silent, as though it is attending its own long and ancient funeral. These are places full of ghosts; full of memories that one cannot reach, but which one can feel all around them.
And their final death, rather than being the final speaking of their names, is the last time people come to explore, to touch the walls and to wonder.