This isn’t my photograph, but I thought I would do something a little out of the ordinary and share a link that my son sent me…he was in the US Army and stationed at this post in Germany for two years preceding its closure in July, 2007. We can see that the lawns have still been cared for to a minimal degree, but it looks like everything else is returning to nature…rather, Nature is beginning the slow, but inevitable process of reclaiming what was Hers in the beginning.
Again, this is not my image, I simply copied it from the page and stuck it in here as an enticement for my blogging friends who enjoy making and admiring photographic images of abandoned structures. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to click on the highlighted words above, or cut and paste this URL directly into your browser: http://www.thematrixer.com/urbanexpedition1.php so you can take a visit to the fading past, as presented in this fascinating piece of art.
Credit for the above image, and the rest of them presented on the linked page, goes to Industrial Heritage and Abandoned-Decayed Places Photography. If you click on this italicized and highlighted link, it will take you to what appears to be their home page.
My name is Josef Müeller and I can remember when I was a child and used to run the path behind the town where I lived in Germany. The town was called “Bischofsdhron” and was named such because it was located near the ruin of a castle that had, in centuries passed, been occupied by a bishop of some renown. I can’t speak to the town’s acreage or square-kilometer coverage, but I know we entered the town after crossing a stream at the bottom of a hill and proceeded up the hill, taking the main road, to an intersection of sorts where we could proceed or turn one of three different directions and exit the town into the various meadows and hillsides or forests that were found along the town’s borders.
If one were to continue in the direction of the main road, which my memory of the various awakenings and settings of the sun would indicate to be southward, one would take a lesser-used road, Idarwaldstrasse, past the sportsplatz and into the forest where one would encounter even less-traveled logging trails that led to only god-knows-where. I do know that my friends and I found a set of railroad tracks and more forest in that southern direction during our several wanderings, but we never came upon another town or settlement of any sort.
Proceeding westward from that particular intersection, we would pass what my parents and other adults referred to as “knob hill.” I don’t know that I was ever made privy to the reasoning behind the rubric, and it doesn’t make any more sense to me now than it did then…unless the people who lived up there were a bunch of dick-heads…but, I don’t know. The road or street we lived on, Sonnenstrasse, which led to a neighboring town named “Morbach,” passed several other homes where the Americans lived. It also passed the house of the Burgermeister, or mayor, of the town. If I remember correctly, the man was rather old and stooped and gray-haired. He was also something more of a symbol than an actual participating entity in the town’s affairs. I was told that his daughter did more governing or directing than he did.
I have wondered how strange I might have appeared, as a German nine year-old, wearing my cut-off blue-jean shorts and a yellow t-shirt, pulling an American G.I. Joe jeep and trailer by a string, as I headed out of Bischofsdhron one summer morning, walking the Morbach road. I think I may have seemed a bit odd. I might have looked rather “American” in my German-ness…or maybe it looked like my mother was German and my father was in the American military, stationed at the base nearby…whatever it was or appeared to be, it was just me wearing American clothes that I had gotten from the charity box at church and playing with American toys that I had received at the German-American community’s friendship toy-drive Christmas party a few months earlier. Anyway, the G.I. Joe was dressed in full camouflage gear with his black combat boots, shiny green helmet and plastic brown rifle, sitting behind the steering wheel, and appeared to be driving the WWII jeep that was pulling a trailer that contained a tripod-mounted rocket or bomb launcher. I don’t remember if there was another G.I. Joe in the passenger seat or not, but we were going to Morbach. I don’t know why I chose to make the journey, either, but it was summer and there was little else to do. Another little tidbit is that the road to Morbach passed through a forest where rabid bats were known to live. Whether that was a rumor supported by truth or entirely fabricated is unknown to me. What I do know, however, is that I spent several long minutes looking skyward, craning my neck and squinting my eyes to see if I could find any bat-like creatures hanging in the branches of the oh-so-tall pine trees that lined the Morbach road.
Anyway, again, I’m telling a story here, or making a confession, really, and it has nothing to do with the Morbach road or my pulling a jeep anywhere with a little string. It also has nothing to do with that time my friends and I stole two kilos of bratwursts from the metzgerei, or butcher-shop, and ran off into the woods to roast them wonderfully and deliciously over a fire made of pine branches…. Ahh…we stood there watching their skins split and turn dark brown and then black as the juices dripped into the fire and made that greasy smoke that clings to your hair and clothes for hours afterward, telling the world and our parents and the metzler’s son what we professed we didn’t do on a certain springtime Saturday afternoon. That’s another story and one that doesn’t deserve much in the way of confessing. Not today, anyway. I’m just giving you the setting, that’s all, so you can understand or see where I was, maybe.
So, there was a path that ran the length of what I understand to be the western edge of Bischofsdhron. In some places it was cobbled, but mostly it was a white-ish crushed rocky kind of sandy stuff that had broken slate and shale mixed in with the dirt. Maybe it was decades-old construction detritus that had been swept in between the buildings and crushed and worn into a walkway over the years…I don’t know…but it started as something like an walkway or narrow alley behind or near the town’s primary school and led to the bottom of the hill, again appearing as an alley or pathway that came out from between two buildings that fronted another road that also led to Morbach. This road took a course at a lower elevation and entered the town from the northeastern to slightly northern border. The majority of the path skirted our town, having the backyards and gardens or backs of houses to the right (east) and empty fields or rolling hills on the left, or western side. As the path re-entered the town proper, it passed between a couple houses and a rickety, aged storage-shed that resembled more of an out-building from a no-longer existent barn or farm complex.
I had passed the houses and shed dozens of times on my way to and from the bus stop on schooldays and during the innumerable weekend and summer-time forays throughout the town and its surrounding countryside and hills and forests. The wooden planks that comprised the sides and door of the shed had been bleached gray by the elements and were barely held in place by a remnant of rusted nails and twisted wire. The bottom edges of the planks had been gnawed by rodents or had otherwise been chipped and were rotting away and any passerby could see some rags or old clothes or other manner of fabric material that was being stored or had been discarded in the shed.
On this particular day, as I was hiking up the path, I turned and looked into the window of the house on my left and saw an older man in a faded and dingy whitish gray tank-type t-shirt holding-on to a little boy’s arm with one hand and hitting him with the other, bashing him in the head and shoulder and arm as the kid ducked and thrashed and squirmed and tried to block the assault. The man’s free hand wasn’t open…the fingers were curled into a fist and his arm was cocked-back as his eye caught my movement through the window. He lowered his arm and turned to face me full-on…watery, red-rimmed eyes swimming in their hate and rage, glaring at me now, forgetting for an instant the little boy in his other hand. He yelled through the window at me – “What are you looking at, arshloch?!” The boy turned, as well, and I saw his crying and pleading eyes and reddened cheeks and bloodied nose. I felt his heart pounding in mine and could smell the old man’s rage and sweat and filthy breath filling the tiny room, suffocating the little one’s desires to do anything but survive the moment. In that instant of wondering why the man had called me an ass-hole, I kept my eyes fixed on his and started to turn my body to walk away, but my foot slipped on the slate and sandy dirt of the slanted and sloping pathway and I lost my balance. I fell sideways and back and crashed into the ancient shack on the other side of the narrow track. A board broke and my hand slid along the rough surface, picking-up splinters and scraping the skin from my palm and forearm as I tried to keep myself from falling full-length onto the slate and other rocks in the pathway. I regained my balance and looked back into the window as I reached blindly for my school bag. All I could see was the boy’s back as the man dragged him through the doorway and out of my view. There were muffled shouts that came out from the other room and back into the little kitchen where I had first seen the man and boy. As I stood there and looked through the window at the remnants of sausage and potato on their dinner plates, I couldn’t understand anything that was being said, but I heard the boy cry-out a couple times after particular shouts from the man and what I thought was the smacking of a hand on flesh. Memories and sensations of dread and having done something wrong crashed through my mind and added to the pounding in my chest. My father had done the same to me many times and I’m sure it wouldn’t have sounded any different if some passerby had been close enough to our house to hear it when it happened. Their rage was the same, the other man and my father…and it looked the same as it fell on the boy and me…from our fathers.
A few days later, I happened to pass through that alley pathway again. I walked slowly and listened carefully before I rounded the corner and turned up and into the walkway that led between the boy’s house and the shed. I don’t know where the thought came from…other than from having witnessed the boy getting a beating those few days before, but for some reason, I decided to light a match to the cloth that was sticking-out from beneath the worn and tattered edge of the shed. Aside from my anger at the boy’s father…and my own, I’m sure, I can’t imagine what other motive would have possessed me to do so. I knew the dangers of playing with matches. I had received a couple beatings for merely lighting them in the house while my parents were outside or somehow occupied and out of my sight. I was nine years-old and knew what fire could do, yet I lit the rags anyway and sped off, pumping myself up the hill as fast as I could, out of the alley pathway and beyond.
I don’t remember the events immediately following that particular afternoon’s misdeed and I can’t recall how long I waited to make a trip up or down that walkway again, but eventually I did. There were no longer any rags or clothes visible from the path side of the shed, and given the fact that I was the hoodlum who had started the fire, I knew well enough not to linger too long or show too much interest in whatever I happened to pass in this particular juncture of the alley or passage. My hasty survey of the damage showed that the bottom 18 inches of the shed door had been burned in a near triangle-shaped pattern that didn’t seem to have burned very long. The man, or boy, or someone must have seen the smoke from their back window and rushed outside to extinguish the fire.
One might say that I’m lucky I didn’t get caught. I do feel a certain level of doubt that I would have survived the beating I would have received if I had been discovered. That’s probably too strong of a statement regarding my father’s harsh treatment of me when I was a child, but it might be more accurate than I’ll ever know. I feel fortunate, today, to have found that the fire was no more extensive than it was those many years ago. Considering the proximity of the other buildings along the path, the results could have been much worse. And I wonder, still…what does it mean that I set fire to the shed? What outcome was I hoping for that afternoon? What was I looking for…why did I do it? Could it have been the desire to burn those images of hate and rage from my memory, or was there some deeper drive or force that compelled me to do something that I knew was so wrong?
Do you ever wonder sometimes, or have you ever wondered what your life would be like if the words went away? Not all words, really, and not anyone else’s words, just yours. What would your life be like if you no longer had the ability to express yourself with words, if they were gone, somehow? And no, not if you simply didn’t have the desire to speak with anyone, or otherwise communicate with them, any particular someone or other somebodies, but across the board, what would your life be like if you lost the ability to simply express yourself with words, as if they vanished from your brain somehow, in concept, in application, in their entirety…gone. I had this thought this morning as I was making my way back from another bike ride along the waterway that I wrote about in Skunk Creek Crossing a few weeks ago. I was looking over the watered and watery plain that exists within the confines of the natural and man-made walls of the river or creek bed and was discussing with myself the many colors of green and brown and velvety silvery gray and yellow and pink and orange and others that were within my view and wondered suddenly how I would feel if I couldn’t describe them as such. I wondered how my life would be so different than it is now if I couldn’t express myself with words…again, not just any words, but mine. I was drawing up one of the last hills that would bring me to the Rio Vista Community Center with its fountain and desert flora, playground, picnic area, etc, when the thought came to me. I almost had to stop riding for a second there as the magnitude of what just occurred to me began to sink in, as it nestled itself and drew its roots down into the fiber of my being and the curiosity became more of a frightening worry as those colors fled past me in my riding, as they moved from my suddenly unfocused forefront and into and beyond the periphery of my view as my words worked themselves frantically to describe themselves and themselves and what they were and meant to me. They struggled against the pumping of my legs as I shifted into a lower gear and pumped faster and harder to make the top of the hill as the sun shone on my back and made the navy blue zippered sweat-jacket hoodie thing that much hotter as I wasn’t moving as fast and making enough of a breeze to cool myself as the words fought themselves still and my throat got choked up as I looked to my left and saw the ugly brown of the washed river bed and looked again and harder and thought that “ugly” wasn’t a good word as the browns and greens spoke to me, as the grays and browns and black and slate and rolled and tumbled porous lava-looking something type river rocks and gravel mixed with some kind of basalt-like something or other as they lay all a-jumble in their bed and touched and rubbed and bumped the little weeds that were so green and bright in their newborn-ness and living and processing of their light energy in their chloroplast-ic photosynthesis factories in their cells and the little fuzz that radiates and collects the warmth and the moisture depending on the time of day and the clouds and the humidity and my fingers are typing wrong and awry as I search for the words that I want and they’re hiding and a-mix in the wash of the fan near me and the cat on the counter meowing as the jet passes overhead and the computer hums; again and still. The top of the hill… and I looked at the scarlet and pink trumpet-shaped flowers on their almost bare-leaved stems and stalks of a bush and wondered how I could tell anyone or myself what they looked like when I had passed them and they existed only in my mind and those little neuronic snaps and fizzles that connect and fire and live in the passing of images into what used to be words or might be “used-to-be” words as I contemplated them and their existence or non-such. I reached the top of the hill and I was sad and I looked again and hoped that my brain wouldn’t be starved of this expression, this vent and outlet and necessary contrivance from our evolutionary past, those things and symbols and articulations that express, and sometimes don’t, the thoughts that ride and ramble and hide away and gone in my cerebral recesses and processes and solitude when they are searched for and longed for by loved ones and others when I keep them inside myself with my reluctance to share and speak and open my mouth and emit those sounds of whatever that make and mean and are words from the inside where they are born and live and hide and rejoice and are mixed and lost and find themselves and me inside themselves and then. I made the top of the hill and didn’t stop but kept pedaling and came to the place where the walking or foot bridge goes to the other side of that river and kept pedaling and came to the playground sidewalk and I thought of words and writing them here and I looked at the rock tower and saw the little brown haired girl standing up there and leaning and looking down at her dad and realized that I knew and know her dad and how could that be, for I don’t know many people and I don’t often see the ones I do know outside the contexts of my knowing them, but yes, it was Elmo, Saint Elmo, my friend from the gym, the one whose mom I met in November or June or some other kind of month, as we shopped in Walgreens, both of us looking for cards for some occasion, as Elmo introduced us and we talked and I was anxious because we weren’t in the gym and I didn’t know what to say, but my friend did and his mom was gracious and laughed at what her son and I said to each other in that nervous exchange for me…as my words hid themselves and I felt the sweat form on my brow and hoped it wouldn’t start to pour like it does sometimes when I don’t know how to bring my words out and use them and share them and have them make sense to those around me…when they usually stay inside and I hurry to do something else or away. And Elmo was gentle with his little daughter and her friend as he played with them and reached up for them and carried them down fast in a “Whoosh! There you go!” as my words jumped and bounced from the yellow sunflower type selves of themselves to “Hey there!” His words came easy again and I marveled at how warm it was and still and it was truly nice to have a friend out there on the path and in the world and be recognized by someone other than my bike seat and “I’ll see you next week; my wife has to work tomorrow,” he said…. “Ok, take care….”
And my words came again and tossed themselves around in my brain and I wondered again and still at what I would do without them. I didn’t think of the commas and periods and semicolons…or even the ellipses and blanks or dashes and whether I should use a single or double quotation mark…but I did wonder about what the color orange looks like and how I would tell someone or you what it was or meant when I said that word, that orange word, orange. I wondered how, if my words were gone, how I could convey what the vibrant orange of an Arizona born, rain-washed, February orange looked like on its tree when that tree had been planted with or near a bougainvillea bush that had mated or entwined itself with that tree and became a collage of scarlet purple blood-red flowers and rich green leaves of both beings and those vibrant oranges and orange that struck out and beckoned to me in my passing, trying to seduce me with its richness, and I had to look back quickly to avoid the parked car along the roadway and circle about again to ride past one more last time as the bright freaking yellow Hummer with the “For Sale” sign taped to the windshield announced in its pregnant yellowness that the oranges were orange and not yellow with the scarlet purple blood-red flowers alongside them and among and with them; it was a rich and fire-blown orange from the great orb in the sky that sheds and imbues the hues and ranges of what is color and then…not the wanna-be orange of a Little Caesar’s pizza box laying in the roadway flattened and smashed and lost of meaning, a has-been with the road film and dirt and grime of tires and sand and oil and asphalt and cheese-grease smeared into the cardboard of a used-to-be sometimey kind of orange. How could I share that without my words?
If they went away, those words and mine, how could I tell you and myself and other somebodies that my mind rushed back to my childhood and young adulthood in Germany, again, as the scent of wild grass and weeds and the wet fecundity of that riverine plain dragged me back to where the outdoors came to live in my deepest heart and mind, to where the staunched soul of my child-self escaped, and where solace was gained and given in the smell of the rich earth and pine sap and crushed leaves and needles and ferns and the scrap and ruin and rant of the forest’s floor in thick mulch and pondering earthworms with squirrel scat and scrape along and beside the trees’ trunks and bushes’ shadowing cover and form. Images and emotions flooded from the smelling parts of my brain and memories born there comforted me strange and new as the words thought in their fleeing of their fleeing as I couldn’t grasp what I wanted to say again as the asphalt moved under the bike tires’ turning and brought me into the same and other regions of the morning ride.
As I and we, the bike and me, and I and my memories rode past and along, we encountered people on their rides and walks in the scented fields and plains and long grasses and wild flowers and the desert bed and we said “Good Morning” to each other as those from my past would mumble or brightly start with their “Guten Morgen, or “Morja,” or “Ja” as we went along, cheerful or not, wanderers that marched or stepped or glided along those hillside roadways in their knitted and woolen pants and tweeded jackets or knit sweaters from the colors of the earth and antiquity and from among the nestled sheep and lambs and the Alsatian dog that sat in his long brown golden red hair with perked ears and watched the tree-line with black brown eyes and lifted quivering nostrils that snuffed and blew in our passing and at the other scents that populated his springtime morning in hill and vale. My desert-ed pathway led past bushes with yellow buttercup type flowers that flashed back to Germany, again and still, and covered the wandering meadows and sundry hillsides with the same and other flowers, those of dandelions and milkweed and bluebells and daisies along black dirt and rutted tractor and wagon roads that paralleled hedges of rock and twisted fences with apple trees in bloom and falling and fallen pink and white petals with bees’ buzz and hum and then. This walkway along the floodway brought the dark-skinned soldier in his desert and storm hued combat boots and overstuffed and loaded green and gray digitized camouflage patterned ruck-sack backpack with his crew-cut and dark wrap-around sunglasses with a march and a cadence that told me he was a new soldier and maybe home on leave and not one tested and fired-upon, not the veteran who might instead be at home curled up in the comfort of his blanket trying to hide from his dreams or racing down the freeway on his crotch-rocket in defiance of normal things that scare us, as the sun glistened in the sweated drops on his forehead and how, I wondered, would I say those things, could I describe those things, if the words were away and gone and had left me in my quaking?
How would I describe those things or the happiness that grew and now hides in a staunched soul that seeks forgiveness and light and wonders at fun and joy if it’s not spontaneous and then, if it enjoys things and others but doesn’t call them so, doesn’t name them so, doesn’t record their lasting imprints and touches as those and then. It sees and smiles inside and changes names and lines of sight in diverting and looking askance and it wasn’t a glare, but a look away and that’s not what you’re thinking; you’re wrong. A shuddering and questioning self bred in scorn and grown aside and apart and not the same as it was then and not, and wonders at the lies and lived agonies of past and forgiveness’ dream as the cycles ebb and flow in their drawing, and if that was a lie is it all a lie, as the driven sands slip through their glasses and the words flee into their surround and marvel and rage as their quiet rings and hums and becomes something they were not, as a muted love screams at the loss of touch and sound and reason as wisdom departs for other seas and oceans of abide and then, if the words fled and died and were lost and gone.