Excursion 14, Part 2 (Turn and Face the Strange)

In which our intrepid hero looks at some ch-ch-ch-ch-changes…

A few times when I was a kid, a neighbor of ours took his kids and me and my sister out into the desert outside El Paso to go “sand surfing.”  This involved taking the wheels off of a kid’s red wagon and tying the wheel-less wagon to the trailer hitch of a truck with four-wheel drive.  The truck would then go up and down some of the dirt roads and arroyos, dragging the wagon behind it, and you would be standing on the wagon, holding on to a rope also tied to the truck, hanging on for dear life and hoping that when you were finally bucked from the wagon you would not land on a cactus or rattlesnake or sharp rock.

Many years later, I reminisced about this to someone, who let me know of her sharp disapproval.  “Don’t you know how fragile the desert environment is?  Don’t you know how much damage you did to that ecology?”  Not being from El Paso, she didn’t understand, so I had to explain it to her.  “This was the desert right outside El Paso,” I said.  “That desert was only going to be there for a couple more years before development would swallow it up.”  This was because, thanks to geographic and other conditions, the tide of growth in El Paso is overwhelmingly in one direction, to the east.  And I was right.  What was desert for me back then vanished in the blink of an eye, to become three and four bedroom ranch houses.  And then the desert beyond that.  And the desert beyond that.  The rate of change in that place at that time was incredible.  Where I used to have to go to get out of the city into the desert is now miles and miles within the city itself.

[Remember that you can click on each photograph below to see a larger, better image]

I mention this as a way to say that change is both ubiquitous and inevitable.  Many of the photographs I have taken over the past year of old farmhouses or barns or buildings seem to freeze time, in a sense, but that is an illusion.  Ohio, for example, is in a state of great flux right now because of the “fracking” boom here.  Because I particularly like to drive in eastern and southern Ohio, where this fracking takes place, I routinely come across the effects of these changes.  I have documented some of them in some of my blog entries (and will be doing more in the future).  One of the currently most visible effects, though, which I illustrate in this blog entry, is that Ohio is now being criss-crossed with a huge network of oil and natural gas pipelines.  All across the eastern portion of Ohio, the land is being clawed into in order to situate these underground pipes.  Don’t get me wrong; I am not actually hostile to fracking (provided it is done with sufficient government regulation and oversight), but I can’t help but notice the changes that it wreaks on the land and the land’s people.


When I started taking this particular set of photographs, I was east of Coshocton, heading roughly east northeast.  This is hilly, forested country, punctuated by small farms generally devoted to raising livestock.


While driving, I came across this barn and small outbuilding.  What happened to the small building is anybody’s guess.  It just doesn’t seem to me that a building would naturally begin to collapse in this manner, which made me wonder if perhaps it got “bumped” by a vehicle or piece of farm equipment.  In any case, I doubt anybody is storing anything there now.


In this neck of the woods, some people don’t really “store” thing at all; they just set them out somewhere, perhaps forever.  Here we are looking into the “back end” of a pasture and livestock barn.  You can see, when you click on the enlarged version of this photograph, that the grounds around the barn are littered with old vehicles, equipment, and every other odd thing.


Not too far down the road I found rather more extreme example of the same thing.  I call houses like this junk yard houses, where the front yard and indeed all the property near the house becomes simply a dumping ground for vehicles, equipment, furniture and practically anything else.


Some places, of course, are much more nicely kept up, including this home.  However, its tidy appearance is not why I included this photograph.  Rather my juvenile sense of humor, upon reading the name of the family that lives here, commanded me to bring it to your attention.


Here is a good example of some ch-ch-ch-ch-changes.  I took this picture not because of the baby Christmas trees but rather because of that long white thing that stretches across the horizon and down towards the right side of the photograph.  That, dear reader, is a pipeline waiting to be put into the ground.


This angle shows it better.  Here you see the end of this stretch of pipe and the access road created to get to it to dig it in.  The planned pipeline continues on behind me.  I see scenes like this all the time while driving around.  What is interesting is that last spring, when I started doing these excursions, I really wasn’t seeing any.  By the summer, however (and into the fall, to get ahead of myself), they had become popping up everywhere.


Well, this doesn’t look like it has changed much, does it?  That’s a rather nice barn, I must say.


Before it bends, the road takes us to this nice old red farmhouse.  With a few small changes, this scene could have looked much the same 150 years ago.


When you look up the word “weathered” in a dictionary, all it has is a picture of this house.


I talked in my previous blog entry about rural Ohio being an Elephant’s Graveyard for dead vehicles and that school buses were among the most common corpses.  Here’s another example.  It looks like someone tried to repurpose it from being a schoolbus, a repurposing that included giving it a paint job, but neither the paint job nor the repurposing seems to have stuck very well.


This photograph of the countryside and the below photograph provide an example of an interesting yet subtle phenomenon that I noticed for the first time this summer—those who live in the countryside, of course, would already be quite aware of it, but I am a city boy.  There is this tiny knife-edge of time, it seems, between when crops are in a sense two-dimensional and when they begin to have a true third dimension.


This second photograph more clearly indicates what I am talking about.  Notice that the corn is now high enough that it actually provides, in a sense, a wall that surrounds the farmhouse and vicinity.  it now has dimension, as if it were a solid object.  One day you look out on a field and you simply see green ground; soon thereafter you look at the same field and you don’t perceive it as ground at all; it is a mass in front of you that has solidity, that has presence.


I like rural underpass tunnels in Ohio.  Almost always, they are railroad underpasses, like this one.  Most such tunnels that I’ve seen are around a century old, if not even older.


One of the reasons why I like them is because the inevitable graffiti is different.  Graffiti in the city is typically gang-related or at least influenced by gang styles.  In rural Ohio, however, the graffiti is not really that different from the graffiti of a century ago (which one can often still see because it is carved into the rock or cement rather than spraypainted on top of it).  You get people simply putting their name on the wall—like Mr. Kuhler, above—or proclaiming that someone sucks or inscribing crude images of genitalia.   But what you really tend to get a lot of is people proclaiming teen love:  “C + W” or “Amber [hearts] Ben.”   That just gives the graffiti a hopeful, optimistic air.


I loved these two curious horses peeking out of the barn to see what I was up to.  Horses are definitely the most curious of the various types of livestock I encounter.


We will stop here with this photograph of a once rather large and grand house, now well into the process of ruin.  It still somehow manages to hold on to a few shreds of dignity, though.

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