Remember this image?
Probably not, but I posted it in the fall after roaming one of my favorite local areas, a piece of beautiful open land with tall grass, scattered trees, bushes and ponds. I have seen rabbits there, and herons. I have walked it in a foot of mud and snow and when the ground split in zig-zag cracks due to drought.
That's all over now. Today it looks like this:
The land is now torn apart by hundreds of dirt piles and ditches like these. Progress is coming. In a year's time this will be a new part of the city, a new residential area for families with children. The rabbits and herons will be displaced and die. The rare piece of open, non-cultivated land will be but a memory.
I just realized all this the other day as I happily walked out there to see if I could put a new spin on this familiar territory with my camera. Sure, I'd seen that they were building a few houses near the road, but I never knew they were about to cover the entire 10 hectares in pavement, bricks, and hedges.
The sight of the destruction of this beautiful area almost made me nauseous. But it wasn't long before this new realization turned into an opportunity. Making my way across and around the newly dug ditches had led me close to the old farm house that struts in the middle of the area. I had always steered in a long circle around the farm house as I didn't want to get yelled at by whoever inhabited the place. Despite the lack of fences and crops, the land I was walking on may very well have been theirs.
But now, having ended up almost in their backyard, something seemed off about the place. I saw broken windows. I saw weeds everywhere. I saw junk randomly tossed on the ground. Holy cow, the the whole thing was abandoned!
Now, if you are not a photographer yourself, you don't know that the word "abandoned" is sweet music in any photographer's ears. Few things are as photogenic as abandoned locations that have been taken over by nature. There is just something about the contrast between human activity and the unrelenting nature that makes for good images.
Fearing a wrecking crew might show up at any minute to level the house, I unfolded my tripod and got to work. This could very well be my only chance to document the old buildings and the soul whose presence I could sense so clearly.
As I circled the house, it became more and more obvious that the farm had been in a state of abandonment and decay for years, possibly a decade or more. The walls were crumpling, trees were growing too close to the buildings. The inside of the stable showed no signs of animals having been present in ages.
One time, however, I stopped in my tracks. A tricycle - the kind that old people use - was parked in the front yard. Was someone here after all? But no, at closer inspection I could see that there was no air in the tires. It had been sitting there since whoever lived in the house left for the last time.
Maybe it was the tricycle, or maybe it was entering the below little backyard that suddenly made me envision life as it may have played out when it still existed here, and what led to its demise. Children running around, eventually growing older, moving away, uninterested in carrying on this farm that may have been in the family for generations. The old farmer and his wife, working the fields and livestock, until one day one of them dropped and could no longer work, leaving the other one lost and with no choice but to move into a retirement home for whatever time was left.
The sun was starting to set, and it was time for me to leave my new discovery behind. As I walked home, the passage of time felt more present than ever before. In less than a week I turn 50 years old. If the speed with which the last 20 years have gone by is any indication - and I fear that it is - the time when whatever traces I'm leaving behind start to fade is in sight. It may not be in shape of a farm, but it will probably be in the shape of what I have created on websites such as this one. And all these images, and thousands more, that no one has ever seen and no one ever will.
But that's okay. When I got home and told my wife what I had experienced, she said something to the effect of, "Before our house was built, this area was someone else's untouched ground, and they were probably pretty unhappy that new houses were being built."
Her words stuck in my mind. The world is constantly changing. Generations follow generations, and the current generations have no say about the future. We have to accept that the world is only on loan to us. And we just have to make the best of it while we can.
The old farm house will probably be torn down one of these days. The new neighborhood will rise from the ground. I will find new places to shoot my images that few people will ever see. And one day when I'm gone, a server will be turned off and the images, too, will be gone forever.
But somewhere in the world, another middle-aged, overweight amateur photographer will leave his house and go out to shoot his pictures.