January 13, 2008

More impermanence in WV

Went cruising in West Virginia again today and took the road past the burned down trailer. The center of the yard's been cleared, with all the junk ranged about in an assortment of piles. I pulled over to take a closer look and found myself under the nonchalant scrutiny of a handful of feral-appearing cats perched on the nearest scrap pile. And yes, the basketball hoop is still there.

At the upper edge of Harper's Ferry, across the railroad tracks, is a rutted gravel road that runs along the edge of the Potomac River for a mile or two. Just before reaching a small creek that feeds into the river, two abandoned trailers sit along the edge of the road. (Has anyone ever figured out just what it is about WV and trailers?) The spot seems to be popular with local fishermen, as the river is wide and flat at that point, before breaking up into rapids as it flows through the chunks of what used to be Dam 3. Once the road crosses over the creek, it splits. To the left, it becomes paved and turns into Engle Moler Road. To the right is what's left of the upstream end of the old gravel road-- closed off by a wire gate, yet apparently still occasionally traveled somehow. I felt adventurous today, so I parked the car and took a meander along that old section of road. At first the only thing creepy about the walk was the sudden bank of grey clouds that had covered the sun, but I added to the ambience by humming the tune to "Duelling Banjos". The first strange finding was a fire ring perched right smack at the edge of the water, stacked with blackened, still-smoking logs. Granted, those logs may have been smouldering for days, and the river was high from recent rain, but I couldn't help wondering why someone would build a fire right smack on the edge of the water. A bit further on, I spied something white hanging from a tree limb a bit off the path. Now, I've spent a lot of time in the woods, and I'm frequently asked whether I get scared hiking by myself. Actually, I'm much more comfortable and feel more secure in the depth of the woods than I do in some of the neighborhoods near my home. But the sight of something human-related and out of place in a spot like that puts me on edge. Shot gun shells on the ground don't phase me. A white plastic grocery bag hanging from an out of reach tree limb, weighted down by a dark, unidentifiable lump in the bottom of the bag, does. Suddenly, the innocent abandoned road along the river felt a little too "Blair Witch". It was good to be out tramping around and exploring, though, so I pressed on, visions of snotty, frightened teenagers and Ned Beatty in his tighty-whiteys alternating in my head. Another few dozen feet along and there suddenly appeared to be a structure of some sort in the trees ahead. Sure enough, it was the ruins of a once-whitewashed stone house. Near a tree on the other side of the road was a faded stop sign. Beyond that was an old speed limit sign that read 15mph. The area then opened out into what may have been someone's front yard, though the road appeared to continue on the other side. Just off the center of this area was a fountain of sorts. Someone had rigged a pipe from a spring in the rocks uphill from the river, run it down the hill, under the open area, and up from the ground through a hunk of concrete, where another section of pipe was connected to divert the water into an old drainage pan (such as you'd use to change the oil in your car). The pan was set on top of a grating that was balanced across the open top of an old metal barrel, and the water overflowed from the pan and through the grating into the barrel in an eerily artistic way. After circling this jury-rigged fountain, I followed the pipe up a set of crumbling stone stairs and through the foundation of an old building to its source at the base of a small, jumbled cliff. At some point in time, someone had obviously not only installed the piping, but also maintained the source of the spring. Small bits of screen had been installed to protect the water from falling leaves and debris as it flowed down various crevices in the rock. As I turned to head back, I narrowly missed stepping on a big pile of shit. I didn't inspect it carefully enough to identify it as animal or human, but it's placement was puzzling. I mean, what intelligent creature craps so close to a water supply? (Various beer cans scattered nearby might provide a pertinent clue to that question.) I hung around for a bit, peeking into the nooks and crannies of an overgrown garden and then, when I'd had my fill of being creeped out, pointed myself back downstream for an uneventful hike back to the car, leaving the place behind just as others before me had done.

(Note: I hope that anyone reading this got the references to Deliverance. I'd hate for people to think that I normally go around imagining Ned Beatty's tush.)

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