In my last post, I talked a bit about how Leslie Spit grew a whole wilderness out of construction debris. It made me think a bit about exploring and discovery and what I might be looking for when I “explore.”
The first time I went out with my urban exploration group, I found myself party to the use of makeshift wire cutters to make our way into the grounds of a fenced off, long-abandoned TB sanatorium in western New York. Someone had been there before us – the fence had been cut and then repaired – and technically, we weren’t cutting the fence, but undoing the repair. We found our way into the biggest building through broken jags of glass.
(if you click on the photos, they get bigger)
I tend to think of the Great Explorers of the World (all those Spaniards whose names I barely recognize] as looking for something. A route to the east. The northwest passage. And many of the discoveries being incidental – looky here, a continent. When I clumsily manouvred my backpack and tripod through that fence around the long-empty hospital, I had no idea what I was seeking. I’m not remotely intrepid, really, and always feel that Good Girl hesitation when I step through a fence, cut across land, enter space I shouldn’t really be in. There’s always a twinge of my friend Adrienne, who long ago once protested to me, when I dragged her through a muddy shortcut into a parking lot, “but I’m a GIRL.” There’s still a part of me afraid of being yelled at by Someone in Authority, of fear of the Dark Unknown.
One of the things I’ve found through treading into new, unexplored spaces (literal and personal) is simply that ability to confront the unknown. The long scary corridor full of echoing nightmares of the abandoned train terminal in Buffalo.
The empty hallway in the TB hospital, the wide doors designed for access to fresh air blown open and frozen there.
Even when I’m seeking birds or something alive, I keep being drawn to the layers of what’s left behind. A cemetery on one of our landings in Baja on our boat trip, the most recent headstone from the 1960s, the homages of vigil candles long burnt out and weathered, even the barbed wire that once kept the cows out long dangled to the ground. Sun-washed headstones with almost no texture left.
The vast glory of a dead whale, leathering in the sun.
No idea how long it would take it in this desert space to become landscape, halfway between whale and bone.
Bone that someday becomes fossil.
Intrigued by the weathering down, the decay, and then the new life that knits itself together across it. Like the Leslie Spit landfill of construction debris, old bricks that becomes an illusion of a lakeshore.
And on this grows a nesting site for forster’s terns.
And roosting sites for ring-billed gulls.
A wilderness in a toe of the city, where there was once just lake.
The most surprising discovery – not just the melancholy of decay, the wistfulness of lost stories, but the transformation of erosion. Graceful lines that call out a pause, create noticing. And like the migration of birds, of whales, these spaces fuse with cycles of loss and regeneration beyond any simple life.