When there are dilapidated homes next-door to us, we regard them as eyesores. We are often quick to point out that they violate housing codes and city ordinances. But it’s amazing how decaying homesteads and barns, as we see them along the coastal roads or in the countryside, become treasures.
They are converted into beautiful subjects through our art and our memories. We paint them, we photograph them, and we write poetry and creative narratives about them. Each broken board, weathered shingle and rusting nail seems to be worth its weight in gold when it comes to storytelling and visual expression.
Just south of the town of Mendocino on Highway One I discovered such a treasure. The only visible sign read â€œProperty of the State Park.â€ There was no information about the history of this farm and homestead â€“ what it was used for or when it was deserted. Beautiful to my eyes, the patches of lime-green mosses on the roofs, the barn sideboards that have worn away to become paper thin, and the tilting walls were all provocatively surrounded by three-foot-high golden grasses dancing in the sea breeze.
Having spent my childhood in upstate New York I am familiar with barns in all their stages, from those pristinely painted in reds and blues to the skinny skeletons scarcely standing. For years, on family outings, we simply drove by the barns, barely noticing their existence in our peripheral vision. Now I can hardly keep myself from stopping to examine every crumbling structure, hoping to mine hidden memories both from the actual site and my childhood connections to these structures.
It is incongruent with my lifestyle as a â€œcity girlâ€ to be attracted to the pastoral farm scenes. But that is probably true of many things, theosophical and concrete, that we admire. For instance, I find that I am attracted to old fishing equipment. Where does this come from? Perhaps I can thank my grandmothers, fishers both, for this fascination. I enjoy the beauty of these crumbling items that morph with lines and colors to become attractive venues.
Grandmother Ethel, oldest of her siblings, left the Jonesville, NY, farm when she turned 18. No looking back, she walked nearly 10 miles to the city of Amsterdam to begin a new and independent life. Grandmother Augusta, one of nine children, grew up in a poor fishing family in Cape May, NJ, at a time when lobster was a throw-away catch!
Along Highway One in the one-block town of Point Arena you find a house on the east side that is draped in old buoys and other washed-ashore boat accoutrements. Like the weathered shingles on the side of the barn, these decaying and discarded materials are arranged chaotically into creative patterns, especially if you look for them.
Perhaps our creative eyes/voices/hearts are directed, subconsciously, to things hidden deep in our inherited memories, things that are often resuscitated from their own arrested decay. Cobwebs aside, they are quite worth exploring, donâ€™t you think?