Ma Nature was in a mercurial mood this spring day. A gloomy, chilly overcast in the morning suddenly began alternating with teasing patches of blue sky as the wind blew banks of clouds from west to east. One such patch was overhead as I drove down the road and through the tunnel under the railroad tracks, splashing through puddles left by a just-passed rain shower. There's enough graffiti in the tunnel that it's a surprise the old farm farther down the road hasn't been taken over by the marauding vandals. Apparently the locked gate and all of the CSX and NPS property signs are enough to keep them out. Either that, or it's just too far a walk for them beyond that gate. Their loss, my gain.
|The old farm gate, not the newer Park Service one at the beginning of the road|
What is it that draws me to spots like this? It's more than just the solitude, certainly. That's something that can be found fairly easily-- along a trail in the woods, in a kayak in the middle of the river, in my car flying down a country road, hell, at home in my apartment if I'm desperate enough. But there's something to these abandoned places that were once lived in, an inexplicable something that I find comforting despite the eeriness of their emptiness. It has to do with the history of them, I think, and the time period in which they were inhabited. It's an easily romanticized time, that era that ended six or more decades ago, a time that was in many ways more full of hardship than now, but is always cast with a nostalgic glow of authenticity and simplicity that so often seems lacking these days. It was a time when one of the most important things people strove for was survival-- not just day-to-day, but of the spirit. Something that I have a hard time finding in the crowded hustle of today's society.
One of the first times I visited this place, I was stopped on the way in by a young park ranger who first informed me that "this is Park Service property", which didn't fool me for a minute, and then warned that the nearby woods were full of hunters. Which also didn't faze me, seeing as how hunting is illegal on Park Service property, but random wandering isn't. I played dumb and stayed at the car, though, pretending that I had just been looking for a quiet place to sit and read and didn't realize that there was anything worthwhile back there. Today, though, I was caught all the way back at the farm when a pair of rangers drove back to check the place out. Dark clouds had rolled in again and I was just heading back to the road when they pulled up next to me and the older of them very courteously explained that they were looking for "sheds" and had noticed the turkey feather on the dashboard of my car back out by the gate. He asked if I was looking for feathers and I realized that "sheds" was a reference to feathers and probably, in their lingo, a sign of poachers. I grinned at him and said that, no, I was just looking for a place with no other people around. He smiled back and apologized for interrupting me in that pursuit, then they drove on down to the barns. He must've taken me at my word, because when they passed again on their way out, as the rain began falling, they waved and kept going. Which was fine. A lonesome walk in the rain ain't ever a bad thing.