I live on a dirt road in the middle of south-central Kansas. There are dozens of old houses sitting around, falling to pieces. Beautiful in their sad, somewhat ephemeral way. Most are made of local limestone, excavated in huge blocks that make up these fantastic, thick walls with deep-set window wells, walls that glow gold in the sunset, or darken in the rain, or become green with moss and lichen. Walls that could tell so many stories, if anyone cared to listen.
I photograph them as much as I can. I love stepping inside these buildings, wondering if I will be welcomed or considered hostile. You can tell, you know. Whether a house really wants you there or not. So far, most of them do want me there. I wish I had the knack for telling their stories, but the best I can do is document them before they’re gone.
But it never struck home before just how ephemeral these houses really are, until this past week.
This photo was taken almost a year ago. Late spring, with a fog still to lift off the ground and the trees finally accepting that winter was gone and letting their leaves come out. The building in the photo is an odd duck; barely eight feet by eight feet, it had two high, barred windows and a wooden door at one time (gone now, as you can tell). I’ve long tried to figure out just what it was. It’s too far from the nearest towns to be a jail. It actually features as the still room in my YA novel.
This photo captures that one moment in time. A moment that will never be captured again.
The trees are gone. The buildings, soon will be.
I am heartbroken. I feel that there is a point at which you own a building – and a threshold at which you are no longer its owner, but its caretaker. A threshold at which you have taken the responsibility for passing it on to the next generation. It doesn’t belong to you, just because you own the land it happens to be on. It has transcended that. Survived too much. Deserves more.
I wish I could save them all. There is a house on the same road that I am keeping a close eye on. I have a feeling its days, too, are numbered. It is one I have seen disintegrate throughout my life. I remember being young and driving past it with my mom, and see the gabled wooden roof still there, the bay window overlooking the stone veranda. Gradually, over the years, the roof caved in. The walls began to disappear. At this time, there is one wall and the veranda left — bits of the other walls remain, but not much — and in its way, it is so beautiful. Jonquils, planted long ago, still bloom every year, and trumpet vines have taken over. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that at one time, it was one of the nicest homes in the area. Who owned it? Why was it left to crumble? I wish I knew.
So I guess the moral for the week is going to sound trite, but here goes: never miss the moment. You never know if it will be the last time you will see that exact sunrise, that fog over those trees, those trees through that doorway.