Sunday, August 3, 2014

Things Of Beauty And Interest In The “Waste Places”

I admit to being odd. My interests are generally unpopular and my humor is often considered quirky. For the most part, though, I feel like the Waggoner’s Lad who said that “them as don’t like it can leave me alone.” Needless to say, I don’t have many friends.

For instance, who would enjoy going to a sandpit or a limestone mine to look at the scenery? I do. Most folks would see ugliness and destruction at such places—the very opposite of beauty. I look at things a bit differently. Yes, I wonder what the places looked like before man’s intervention. Were they wooded bottoms and hillsides of ancient trees, or perhaps small prairies maintained by the Native Americans to create grazing for the buffalo, elk and deer that once lived in the Ohio Valley? (Yes, buffalo and elk once lived here, and the Indians DID practice land management!) At a later time, perhaps the area was covered with the crops and pastures of the white settlers, who built their homes and raised several generations of descendants here. Beside those scenarios, some folks couldn’t help but see the current appearance as homely by comparison.

Still, people travel hundreds (or even thousands) of miles to see the Bad Lands, Monument Valley or the Grand Canyon. To someone from the forested hills of the East, such places might seem lonely and forbidding, yet the scope of those landscapes, and their very appearance of barrenness, is a large part of their draw for those with wider definitions of beauty. And the Native Americans lived there for centuries, so there IS life there and there ARE natural provisions for man in those places. Even cacti have blossoms, as do many desert plants.

When I see the active part of a sandpit, I see a miniature Monument Valley, perhaps only because I’ve never been to the real one. Like the buttes and mesas out west, the pit walls show the different levels of the land’s creation. Sitting in the truck the other day at a little mom and pop sandpit, I marveled at the similarity of the sedimentary layers of sand to the growth rings of trees. Just as the rings of a tree indicate the physical growth of the tree and the passing of time, the obviously different layers of sand represent the filling of the valley from floods over the centuries. According to geologists, the Ohio River, as we know it, is only about 10,000 years old—a mere tick of the geological clock, if you believe estimated scientific time over the Bible bean counters. It’s hard to imagine a river 50 miles wide, but only one inch deep. However with time and flooding, a channel was cut vaguely similar to what we see today, and additional floods filled some low spots in again, creating the sandpits that man now mines for building material and fill dirt.

When I look at the “abandoned” part of such places, I see an archaeological dig, a ghost town of old equipment, a history lesson and a lesson about the relentless perseverance of nature. In 500 years, little or no sign of man will be seen here if nothing more is done. Quaking Aspen, Sycamore, Virginia Pine and other pioneer species are already growing there. So are many of the native plants; I saw Queen Anne’s Lace, Brown-eyed Susans and Joe Pye Weed blooming prodigiously as I looked around one pit yesterday. There were others, of course, including some that were edible, like Milkweed and Colt’s Foot.

As for hunting, were it legal, it could be done there. I’ve watched trophy bucks grazing cautiously among the native “weeds” and the deliberately sown lespedeza covering the land once mined. Other times, does and their spotted fawns have fed and cavorted within 50 feet of the truck. Canada geese have grown accustomed to the traffic in and out of such places and to the digging and dumping. I dumped a load within 30 feet of a flock the other day and all they did was walk 20 feet further away and turn around to give me a honk and a dirty look. Perhaps the land is preparing itself for the next age of hunter gatherers.

The slag yards and the limestone mine is little different in most ways. One extra thing there is the trains. I was blocked from crossing a two mile spur line for about 10 minutes the other day by a CSX engine and it’s following of coal cars. A couple hours later, I was blocked by the smaller engine (pulling a single car) of a tiny railroad company that operates a mile-and-a-half spur line on the other side of the river. There aren’t many places that I get to watch trains anymore.

So, are such places ugly? They are to some people, but I’ll take them over a modern downtown any day. See, I TOLD you that I’m odd! © 2014


M. Silvius said...

From where I stand there's nothing odd about that. I'm with you on that one. For some of us the urban environment and society in general are getting a bit too much to handle. This is my idea of paradise:

Sunnybrook Farm said...

I like places like that and have found old quarries where rock was taken out to make canal locks and train bridges out in the middle of no where. Most of my travels were along the James but now are the head waters that flow out to the outer banks. If I see a bit of disturbed ground I will check it out to see what turns up.

Gorges Smythe said...

I guess there may be more like me than I know, Michael. I'll check out the link; thanks.

Yeah, SF, I have a tendency to check plowed ground for arrowheads and creek beds for anything.

Lady Locust said...

It's too bad others teach us what is beautiful instead of letting us figure it out on our own as we age. I still think the cotton flying is just heavenly - I don't care how many people use profanity in the same sentence with it.

Kathy Felsted Usher said...

We have two train tracks running through town, BNSF and Union Pacific with up to 85 trains a day crossing the main roads through town, plus a sand plant that makes silica where the tracks veer off so the cars can load up. We can be stuck 10 minutes when that happens. They did build an overpass on the other side of town finally.

Gorges Smythe said...

How right you are, LL.

You must live near a little bigger place than I do, Kathy!