Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Darren Orf: A field of glass and a western wall

I stood in a clearing. The dense forest to my left and right hindered my vision but something had caught my eye. I went to the left pulling tree limbs and hearing the crunch of leaves beneath my feet. It was unmistakable. I stumbled upon a field of rust and glass.

The field was a half-mile hike from any road or building in Branson, Missouri. Cans and pieces of glass littered the ground as if meticulous planted or carelessly thrown away. The glass dazzled in the sunlight and the rusted cans blended with the ground: decades of old pop-top beer cans, baked beans and other cans with labels to faded to decipher. It was a treasure that awakened my childlike curiosity. I was like an archeologist, rummaging through these objects with care. The items were scattered in a 100-foot circle, which descended down a slope. It was difficult to traveled in the wooded field without damaging the artifacts.

While glancing at a particular bottle, supposedly used for medicine in the 1920s, I happened to catch another, rather large object across the clearing. I tiptoed through the field of rust, crossed the clearing and once again entered the woods. After a couple hundred yards, I discovered a house. However, only bits and pieces remained. White, misshapen bricks formed one wall. Much like the Western Wall in Jerusalem, this wall was the only one that was left. Surrounding trees had clung to the edifice as if trying to reclaim the house back to nature. It was hard to discern what precisely could have caused such damaged. Charred pieces of wood lie in the middle of the foundation but could have been a campsite for previous explorers. I now considered myself as joining their ranks.

Both the field of rust and glass as well as the lone wall serve as a place for me. However, this place does not quite fit the definition that Phil Hubbard describes in his article, “Space/Place.” While attempting to differentiate the two ideas, Hubbard states, “Place is often equated with security and enclosure, whereas space is associated with freedom and mobility” (43). There was a sense of “enclosure.” The surrounding flora, the foundation of the house and the wooded field all had a containing nature. The house even had the entryway still intact, inviting travelers within its nonexistent walls. The place ensnared you with curiosity, and once there, would not let you leave. However, “security” was lacking. While my discovery was thrilling, the violent images of the decimated house, the charred wood and the sharp glass provided an air of uneasiness to those woods. With such images, the mind can’t help but try to fill in the blanks. With such destruction and disarray, every story I came up with had an unhappy ending. I thoroughly hunted for evidence to convince me otherwise but the pile of charred wood was all the evidence I could find.

There was no evidence to support that this area could be considered a space. The qualities of “freedom” and “mobility” were not inherent in these areas. I would term this experience as exposed. Much in the same if you were to tear down the walls of your house or live under a pavilion, there is no question that you would feel exposed. That is how I felt as I surveyed the ravaged house. The area contained a duality. The area would contain you with curiosity, not allowing you to just casually walk by but you would also feel exposed, even though no one was there.

The field and the wall provoked a strong emotional response but it wasn’t entirely positive. Hubbard references Yi-Fi Tuan’s work Space and Place, and states, “[Tuan] uses the notions of topophilia and topophobia to refer to the desires and fears that people associate with specific places” (42). Tuan argues that the describing a place is black and white as love and fear. I believe that there is a grey area as well and in my case, it is especially applicable. I was not afraid of this area, my numerous trips to it were evidence for that, but there was a sense of fear of the unknown and the violent images that surrounded me. However, this idea of love is also relevant because the emotional reaction that I get from this area is overwhelming. The best term that I can describe to this place is awe, not truly afraid but not fully embracing. I disagree that the terms of space and place can be defined in such black and whites terms as Hubbard references and Tuan describes.

Despite the grey area in which I resided, I was thirsty for history. Whoever had lived there was now long dead but I still found myself wanting to know more about them. It made me think of the temporal effects on place and space. For this man, woman or family this was a home. Perhaps it was lively with children and neighbors coming and going or perhaps it was a silent as it was today. This unknown area was full with cold beauty and historical importance. I was convinced if I could envision how these people lived I would undoubtedly learn more about myself. That is the essence of history. I had stumbled upon a natural museum. But why did this feel so different. I had seen old buildings and monuments constructed before by brilliant architects and designers. It was just the simplicity of it. The average stone structure nestled away from the public gaze. It was intimate and a more true, natural experience. Perhaps the person who lived here was a simple farmer or blacksmith? Did he or she build this house alone? How long did it take? How many generations had grown up within this house’s walls? What was the catalyst for them to abandon their home? Questions kept pouring from my mind and had no intent on stopping.

With a collection of glass, tin cans and rocks as mementos, I hiked back. The mysteries remained unresolved about who these people were, but it didn’t really matter. What mattered is that they had lived. They had left something behind and influenced another generation through me, or any other fellow explorer who was lucky enough to discover that hidden treasure. As I descended a steep hill, I wondered if anyone would ever find my field of rust and glass.

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