The vast Canadian prairies are vast.
This former hotel was once the only place in town where alcohol was available, but only to its guests. Pullman’s employees, however, were barred from the hotel or its bar and restaurant. The industrialist did not believe his workers should drink. As noted in the previous post, George Pullman was a touch paternalistic.
From a shuttered amusement park in the middle of Ohio. Nature has reclaimed most of what there was to see, with rusted rails furtively peeking out of dense foliage before plunging again into the thicket.
My entry in the ongoing plant-off that the Idiot Photographer and I are engaged in, good naturedly, of course. We need JuniorBBQ and Moribund to come in with some prairies and pianos soon lest this blog become the botanist’s illustrated guide to armageddon.
The rather esoteric title of this post is a reference to the Edward Gorey of the same name. The story (presented in a form similar to a graphic novel, with each paragraph illustrated with Gorey’s idiosyncratic drawings) details the process by which the protagonist, one Mr. Earbrass, writes a novel, the eponymous Unstrung Harp. While humorous, it presents the act of creation as neurotic, exhausting, self-alienating, and somewhat absurd. This particular story came to mind while I’ve been combing and recombing my recent pictures in order to find pictures that could make the cut for presentation here on The Idiot Photographer. Much like the fictional Mr. Earbrass, I’ve gone through exhilaration and zeal, periods of numbness, and have now reached a stage where most of the last month’s worth of photography seem alien to me. The thing in Harp, however, is that Earbrass is a successful author; he gets lost in the process of creation, but what emerges is apparently a good novel. I wish I could say the same for my own act of creation.
This, of course, is a result of not having been on a shoot in a while; I’m in need of fresh material to edit and agonize over. This will likely be my last post for the next ten days or so, as I leave for Buenos Aires Saturday. Hopefully I’ll return with several memory cards of decent material. Until then, here’s a shot of a tree attempting to escape a ruined apartment building.
For those interested in a neat write-up of The Unstrung Harp, I found this on WordPress.
Trees sprout from the crumbling Packard edifice; the General Motors headquarters looms victorious over its long-vanquished rival.
For all of winter’s austerities, there are riches to be found for those who look.
I’m preparing to head out on adventure, since I won’t be online tonight I figured I’d give you guys something to look at while I’m away.
Here is a horse pretending he is a tree.
Nature knows no boundaries, and given the opportunity will always cross the line between the areas designated by humans as to be “for humans”, and the areas where it tolerated. Often in the context of an industrial site this means the patch of grass along the drive and a shrub or two by the office door as “landscaping”. I often find urban plantings quite depressing for this very reason.
A large part of the magic in the Grief Brothers factory is where natural forces have crossed the artificial boundaries we have placed. Tabula Rasa took a photo here that is the embodiment of this concept.
I found myself rather entranced with this tree that has managed to reach quite far into what was once part of the main hall of the factory.
Yet in other places the greenery has mostly stayed on the other side of the line. It is biding its time, awaiting the failing of a key roof support perhaps.
No where was the demarcation between inside and outside more obvious than at this point. One wonders if the tree that grew there was once planted by some industrious squirrel 40 years ago then forgot about it, or if the wind bore the seed there to take root in a small crack in the pavement.
As for me, I found a different exit to use that day.
I could title this post “How Tabula Rasa Led Us All Astray (sort of)”, but I won’t.
This past weekend was a bit crazy for me. On Saturday Tabula Rasa and I went out and had a full day of wandering with no buildings explored, not for lack of trying. We just found ourselves in a place with a few good buildings that were locked up and impossible to explore. In the end we ended up at Morton Arboretum, but this is not that story.
Sunday we had made plans for a larger than usual group (as in more than 3 of us), Tabula Rasa, BentBottle and I were going to take some friends to a couple of our favorite locations to show them around. We ended up off in the southwest suburbs looking for a graveyard. In a forest preserve.
The Bachelor’s Grove graveyard is one of those popular local “haunted” places, mainly by virtue of being really old by American standards and being located in a slightly creepy part of the woods. Literally. Tabula Rasa knew where Bachelor’s Grove Woods were, and being the human GPS that he is we trusted him to lead us to the graveyard with few problems. We struck out on the trail with more than a bit of excitement and enjoying the early spring song of frogs. In retrospect that was probably our first clue that we were not where we thought we were.
Soon enough we came to end of the trail. It was not a graveyard though. Instead we found the home of the frogs that had been serenading us all along our way down our rather short walk. We were faced a choice, do we go back down the trail and see if we can find another way around to the graveyard that we think is there, or do we strike out off the trail and walk around the pond to see if we can find it?
I freely confess that I agreed we should try walking around it, and I was the tie-breaker vote. Silly me. Tabula Rasa broke out his magical technological device known as a “cell phone” and loaded up the GPS, you know, so we wouldn’t get lost.
We quickly found a game trail that, as game trails do, quickly petered out into nothing. We found ourselves slogging through mud and shallow flooded prairie and I discovered that my previously waterproof shoes had developed a leak sometime over the winter. As we squished our way around the pond we realized that (as the city folk we are) none of us really had any idea of what direction we were headed in. We could hear the sound of far off traffic from our right, but that was it.
At this point I decided if I was going to be stomping around the woods in the early spring I had better find something interesting to photograph. We had kind of spread out and everyone was taking a slightly different path, just keeping Tabula Rasa in sight and following his general direction. Our merry little band of adventurers was rapidly turning into a sweating and overheating band of mildly concerned doubters.
We found ourselves back on the edge of the pond, and decided to take a bit of breather so our fearless leader could explain to us that he thought he had found the graveyard on the GPS, we just needed to head off in “this” direction. Jo took the time to show us all up and conquer a tree while we tried to revive ourselves.
During our little break I noticed something odd about the moss of the fallen trees around us. It seemed, shaggier, than regular moss.
At some point I began thinking we were living in a post-apocalyptic world searching for the bastion of humanity. We bravely headed off in the direction indicated to us by the person with the magical direction-finding device, acquiring new bruises in the process. (The largest of my bruises is amusingly bird shaped. And hurts. A lot.)
Then we found the parking lot and drove the mile to the part of the forest preserve where the graveyard was actually located. Tabula Rasa, being the person that he is, was immensely proud of himself for leading us ALL THE WAY AROUND THE POND and back to the parking lot. I, being the person I am, mentioned that he had bothered to consult his magical technological device BEFORE we headed out we would not have to walk around the pond.
I did neglect to mention that perhaps I had really enjoyed our little adventure in the woods, and would like to do it again someday, but I did imply it.
Chicago, I think we need to have a little sit down with a therapist. You’re weird, deeply weird. This time, you may have gone too far.
Those poor trees, what did they ever do to you to deserve this?
Just because you thought joggers needed something colorful to look at during the drear winter months. How about they watch their footing rather than looking up at an impossibly orange tree?
Despite being a fairly rational and not superstitious person I too often fall into magical thinking when exploring the lost places I often find myself in. Blame it on the all the mythology (and H.P. Lovecraft) I read growing up, all the fantasy (High and Low) I’ve read all my life, as well as my nature as a human being to see patterns where there are none and to imbue the inanimate with a mind.
The Romans had the idea of a Genius Locii, the protective patron spirit of a place, be it a forest or a building, a waterfall or an open market. This spirit was to be placated and honored and the personality of the spirit was divined by the nature of the place. A forest could have a grim human hating spirit which only wanted to protect the trees and animals, while an open meadow would have a playful spirit that wanted humans to come in and enjoy the simple pleasures of laying in the grasses and watching the clouds go by. The Genius Locii would help or harm depending on its nature and personality and could be as fickle as any 4 year old human child.
As I scrabble through these buildings I like to fancy I can feel the Genius Locii, and I make up stories not only about the people who once lived or worked here, but about how the building itself feels about being left to crumble and decay, relegated to be forgotten or actively reviled as an eye sore. Some places crumble and age and fall in a glory, such as the Methodist Church. Others fall remembering the better days, bitter in their memories of once being a place of importance, or a shelter for families.
Then others embrace their dotage by moving past what they were when first built, they welcome in the pigeons and secret furtive beasts who now shelter in them.
They shelter trees who spread their branches, reaching for windows or collapsed ceilings, perhaps dreaming of the freedom of open sky.
I know that Genius Locii are the creatures of my imagination, yet one cannot help but to feel them there. Watching. Ready to help or harm, or merely indifferent to my fate. All while whispering the stories of the people who have come before me and haunting my dreams in the small hours of the night.
The other day Tabula Rasa, his son and I took a little trip through the town of Hammond, Indiana. We weren’t intending to stop and try shooting a photo of the BP plant, but we both saw something we liked and stopped to give it a try. We were there for maybe 2 minutes before security had our car surround and was questioning us.
This is why I prefer urban exploring, at least if security or the police are talking to you they have actual cause and it isn’t just to intimidate and harass you. Either way Tabula Rasa took the reins and stayed much politer than I would have and the security guards told us about a purportedly haunted school in Cedar Lake Indiana. Curiosity got the better of us and we decided to abandon our plans for Gary and go farther afield than usual.
The school itself is behind a locked gate and hidden behind about an acre of mature oak trees, since we were in the hinterlands people would notice if we just left our car on the street and we were not so far into the hinterlands that there wasn’t any traffic at all. We drove around a bit and finally found a nice out of the way place to park that also got us far closer to the building than we had hoped to park.
Walking through the woods and rubble of destroyed outbuildings Tabula Rasa’s son commented “This is getting a little Blair Witch.” And he was right. It was a bright, sunny winter morning and the place had a definite air of the creeps about it.
We did a quick walk around to the front and then decided to just go inside. After a through explore we did a longer walk around and decided that this building was best appreciated from outside. It appears to hold a lot of promise, until you go inside.
It is most definitely not haunted. Local lore holds that the priest in charge of the school went crazy one night and murdered a bunch of his students, afterwards the school was closed. In reality there is no evidence at all for a grisly murder spree (come on people, it was 1977 or thereabouts, there would be newspaper reports on this kind of thing, national reports!) and the fact is the school went broke, had a nice little closing party for the students and everyone went home safe, sound and unmurdered.
But that isn’t an exciting story to tell your friends when you are 14 and trespassing in the dead of night to go poking around an abandoned school. What amazing me the most is that the people who told us that this is a haunted place were adults my age and they never thought to question the ghost story!
I am a realistic person. I don’t believe in ghosts, ghouls, afterlife, spirits or hauntings. I do believe in the power of suggestion, that somethings have yet to be explained well and the mind’s ability to fool us into seeing things that are not there. I wanted to go to a “haunted” place because places like that usually have an aesthetic that our minds link to the feeling of creepy or disquiet feeling that I like and want to capture in a photo.
This is somewhat detracted from by the laziest and most unimaginative graffiti I have ever seen.
You ever have one of those moments where you are conflicted as to what aspect of the photo should be highlighted? Should I focus on the red leaves, or the magnificent waterfall? How can I frame the waterfall with the tree? Can I frame the tree with the waterfall? Arggghhhhhhhhhhh!!!!! I think my brain imploded from the wonder of it when I took this shot. Thankfully the rest of waterfall photos for the day came out a little better.
First, the little waterfall.
We didn’t even make it to the visitor center before we were stopped in our tracks by this little waterfall and the stunning little tree sheltering it.
So vibrant, but peaceful. Further into the garden is a much larger waterfall which manages to be both overwhelming and soothing at the same time.
This was the only time I really wished they allowed tripods in the garden, I had to hold my breath to take this photo.
Then there was this moment, imperfectly captured.
I couldn’t take Chicago any longer, so I ran away for a bit. To Utah. It was lovely.
Crossing the mountains in Colorado we were greeted by this sight:
Once out of the mountains most of what we saw was scrubland, and hills. There is something serene and beautiful about the open empty places that helps heal the wounds city living has inflicted upon me.
Our first stop was in Moab for Arches and Canyonlands national parks. While the arches in Arches are magnificent, the general landscape was breathtaking and mesmerizing.
OK, I’ll be honest, I didn’t take many photos of the arches themselves, I’ll post the few I did take in the next post. I was more fascinated by the contrast of the green soil and red rocks to be honest.
The things you find, wandering the woods on a cold and foggy January afternoon.
Of course while there is always that one show-off who turns color early, there is also the stubborn hold-out who waits until all the other trees are naked before turning. Around it here it tends to be the ginkos, they’re too busy dropping foul berries all over the sidewalk to consider looking pretty.
Fall is almost here and it is my favorite time of year. I’m likely going to miss the high of color this year since I’m planning on being in Texas around that time, but you never really know for certain when the trees are going to turn. I’m extra excited for this year and can’t wait to see what I can capture with my new camera.