August 10, 2014

Ghost Story

Do you see what I see? Rusty iron and weathered pine...
Layers upon layers...

Do you see trash? Or do you see a story?

The story I see always starts the same way. It is the late 19th century in the American West. A man slogs into an icy creek in the middle of nowhere, having trekked off the trail that veered from the last fork off the road he found at the end of the earth.
He spends spring, summer, and fall bent over his souped-up strainer, searching the silt for gold, silver, sapphire, garnet. When he stands up, he takes his axe to the fallen pine...
 ...and hews the trees into logs. He lugs these atop one another, till he has shelter from the snows, which will start at the end of September and continue through April.
News of a good strike lures other men....
...and the gears of the business of mining begin to turn.

The hum in the air lures the people who service the miners. Those who sell and repair mining equipment, those who barter dried beans, coffee, sugar. Those carrying grain for mules and oxen. Those selling whiskey. Or women.
 And then come the blacksmiths, the assayers, the bankers, the barbers...and a town comes to life.
In short order, a cemetary appears on the hillside.
If the mines continue to cough up ore and the government keeps those mineral prices steady, the next wave begins. Cast iron behemoths of inexplicable configurations, the machinery of ore extraction and processing, sit like giant mastodons on the edge of town.
And now the families pour in.They need real homes with front porches. Churches and schools. All the accoutrements from their lives back East.

And because men with whiskey and guns will be boys...
...a jail.

Populations surge, often to several thousand. It is called a boom town.

But in these remote areas, boom is just a breath ahead of bust. The men overfish the mines or the government devalues mineral prices. The railroad barons push them off The New Map. The gears of commerce begin to slow...and then they just stop. Everyone packs out, except the odd soul who has no stomach for moving--or no other place to call home. And Nature moves back in.
Sometimes, usually during the 1920s or 1930s, a mining company will take a second look. The town burps to life. With electricity, running water, and the stuff of the 20th century.

But that boom too will last just a moment. And then it will all be over.
Sometimes, a ghost town catches the attention of a private foundation or a state government, who will halt or even repair the decay. In most cases, the town just falls away, piece by piece.

Until it looks like this.
We spend hours roaming these towns. In California, Nevada, Utah...New Mexico and Arizona...and now,Idaho and Montana. He collects images, I hunt for bits of broken glass and china, odd pieces of rusty metal, dirty mattress ticking nailed to a wall. 

But there must be a bigger reason that we are drawn to these places, all of the same single story, over and over again.

We just don't know what it is.