It had rained yesterday afternoon, another one of those short-lived but intense afternoon thunderstorms. This morning we ran by the bank barn, and I could see someone else had gone exploring down the old farm lane, perhaps even waded through the waist-high grass to go poking around in the main house:
It began with this book . . . .
and these photographs from the book, in particular the rather stunning one of the neatly-made bed with the framed bucolic landscape over the headboard. Came the questions: the things you leave behind mean something — what do they mean, and what do you mean ?
Historian Patricia Nelson Limerick, in “Haunted by Rhyolite: Learning from the Landscape of Failure,” wrote of the settling of the American West:
Growth, advancement, and construction are certainly part of the region’s history, but so are contraction, retreat, and abandonment.
Rhyolite stands as physical evidence of the fact that the West was a place where pioneers met the forces of urbanization and industrialization head-on, not a place where innocents and individualists escaped those unsettling forces.
Throwing down the gauntlet:
In assigning a chronological deadline for western expansion, Frederick Jackson Turner was off by a century. Before the idea of a watershed in western American history could make any sense, we had to spend another century running through boom-bust cycles in agriculture, ranching, logging, and mining. We had to reach a point where water, in an arid and semiarid region, is stretched just about as far as it will go . . . . we had to accumulate ruins, inarguable physical evidence that testifies to the mixed outcomes of western expansion.
The ruins of Ryolite are stark, concrete forms, dry like the desert, slowly crumbling into dust. They are not romantic, or sympathetic, or magical. Neither are Steve Fitch’s abandoned interiors. What does it mean that a half-built house and an abandoned house will meet somewhere along a timeline, where they are indistinguishable from each other?
H. G. Wells quote of the day, from Meanwhile (The Picture of a Lady), 1927:
“I perceive I have been meanwhiling all my life. Meanwhiling . . . Have I been living?” (Shrug of the shoulders and gesture of the hands.) “No, I have been meanwhiling away my time.”
And for once his own bright observation pierced back and searched and pricked himself.
I have never read H. G. Wells, although as a kid I was rather fond of the 1960 film adaptation of The Time Machine and watched it a few times on midnight TV. Since I didn’t know anything about Wells, I didn’t understand the contexts of the man and the writer, and hence didn’t know his science fiction works (or, in the words of his publishers, “Fantastic and Imaginative Romances”) were social/cultural/political commentaries. And I certainly did not know about his non-SF novels.
I no longer remember how I got onto Meanwhile — yesterday, or two weeks ago, gets to be a long time ago. I thought it was going to be a drawing room comedy-satire — something Wilde- or Coward-like — and it isn’t. Meanwhile is not sharp or ironical enough — it is far more earnest, insistent and demanding, the apprehension of class and gender roles a product of its time. And despite the utopographer in the garden, its audience is long dead. So now I have a vague understanding of the General Strike of 1926, and a certain discomfiture in the conclusion that there are sometimes good reasons why certain books, even by great writers, are consigned to storage.
Meanwhile … obligatory Opie pictures:
Bobcat Ridge Natural Area is one of our newest designated “natural areas,” even though it is outside the city limits. Pioneers arrived in the area beginning in the 1860s, and various families through the years used the land for agricultural purposes — subsistence farming, dairy operations, then cattle ranching — before the last owners decided to let the city buy the land as a nature preserve. And it is gorgeous up there!
This morning we strolled (on an accessible trail) to the restored 1917 log cabin:
It was apparently marginal crop and stock land around the cabin, but families managed to live off it for years. One family had a kitchen garden, and also raised chicken, pigs, and milk cow — no money, but enough to eat — until the well ran dry. The Natural Areas people installed a new well and hand pump in front of the cabin when they took over the land.
The Kid snapped a picture of a cottontail — she remains rather fond of these bunnies, despite the fact that one (or perhaps a family) of them ate her Arbor Day tree last year:
Scattered behind the little cabin are various old farm equipment, including a hay raker, a press wheel for planting different grains, a wheat thresher, a ditcher, a plow, and this:
. . . . a corn planter, of course!
As of today, we are officially a utilities generating facility, supplying electricity generated by our photovoltaic system into the city grid!