Old Bones

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Forgotten side roads, hidden deep in the green hills of Kyushu, are where I spent many epic afternoons driving around in my trusty '89 Civic. Often, I would encounter fallen trees or boulders blocking the road that I would skirt around, nudge out of the way, or get out of my car and physically move them to the side. Almost always, if I was at an impassable, the road was so narrow that I would have to drive what seemed like a mile in reverse, before I could even attempt a 3 point turn.

Even then, the 3 point turn would have a sheer wall of rock at one side, with a steep cliff on the other. The prospect of imminent death is a great motivation to learn the abilities of your body and vehicle. On more than one occasion, my neck was sore from looking over my shoulder for a prolonged session of driving in reverse.

Most of the time the roads would lead to a secluded farm, a colony of green houses, a pasture of rolling hills with cattle traps on the borders of the road and gates blocking further access, a rice field, or a uniform-sized grove of cedar trees used mostly to grow Shiitake mushrooms. Sometimes, there was a charming coffee shop or restaurant hidden away run mostly by people moving back to the country for a simpler life.

It wasn't uncommon to see an abandoned building on the side of these far away roads. Usually the surrounding woods would be well into the methodical process of eating, over growing, or generally reclaiming these forsaken spaces. Layers of leaves, dirt, mold, and animal droppings formed the beginnings of soil, mostly colonized by weeds and creeping vines.

On a late cold winter afternoon, under branches that formed a dark tunnel over a weedy road, I came upon one such house. Clearly, this place been abandoned by its owners a long time ago, but it had managed to evade vandalization. Stacked around the front and back yard that ran up to the edge of jungle, discarded appliances, media, and other semi-organized debris stood as testament to a sorrowful neglect.

Though the living no longer inhabit these places, you can still feel the shadow of their presence in the things that they left behind. Just thirty feet down the road, the sun shines brightly on the dusty road. The thick tangle of trees surrounding the house block most of the windows, and the dark green walls seem to absorb the scant light that makes it into the structure.

On the polished eves of the house, yellowed black and white pictures of the family patriarchs, all stern-faced males dressed in formal attire, glare down from their heavy frames on the rotten tatami mats, amidst the weeds and scattered, yellow papers and books as if in disapproval of the house that they are watching over. Were they, at one point, looking down on a family with contentment? It is hard to imagine that there might have been happiness, laughter, or even a relaxed conversation under these eves.

Scrolls with highly-stylized kanji hang on the adjacent wall, edges curling and black with moisture and the very same mold that is eating the wood, tatami, paper, walls, and even the very glass. The kitchen is littered with a few old, worn out plates, bowls, and cups. Opposite the kitchen, the tatami mats have rotted through and the very floor boards have caved in, exposing the ribs of supporting beams. The darkness, right below the floor, might be hiding any number of things that go bump in the night.

Just past this ominous chasm lies another room, almost pitch black, and packed full of mistreated, old luggage, broken toys, and other creepy artifacts. Getting there would involve walking on rotten beams over the darkness. I carefully put one foot down and test the narrow 2x4, and it starts to give. Slowly, I retract my foot, and decide that I'll stay on this half of the divide.

Though it feels like a really long time, I only spend a short time investigating the house (the watch indicates that I've been in for seven minutes). I take care to leave everything as I find it. Snapping pictures does not seem appropriate with someone's ancestors looking down on me. Quietly, and carefully, I exit the house, taking the same route out that I took in.

The feeling that I get when I enter places like this is similar to the experience of walking into a great cathedral through a dark beam of light in an ancient Toledo neighborhood, or hiking by myself alongside magnificent giant sequoias on a rainy day. It's not scary, but it weighs profoundly on my mind and soul.

Not all abandoned buildings can stir up these feelings, especially when you are with a rowdy group of friends. With this in mind, I never shared the location of some of these places with anyone else, and I like to think that they will remain forgotten, and will return to the earth unmolested by others.

4 Comments

Wow. Both sacred and spooky at the same time! I could almost smell the mold and mildew. If only the walls could talk......

Great post, fantastic description.

Along with my destructive friends, we remain grateful that you did share a couple of these places with us, so they can return to the Earth quite molested.

Great post, fantastic description.

Along with my destructive friends, we remain grateful that you did share a couple of these places with us, so they can return to the Earth quite molested.

Great post, fantastic description.

Along with my destructive friends, we remain grateful that you did share a couple of these places with us, so they can return to the Earth quite molested.

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This page contains a single entry by Adam published on January 16, 2008 1:00 PM.

Dusting off the cobwebs was the previous entry in this blog.

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