Archive for September, 2009
Location: Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia
The police pulled us over in Petersburg, West Virginia clocking a 27 mph in a 25 mph zone. We left with warnings and directions to the Big Bend Campground in the Monongahela National Forest.
It had taken us about an hour to drive the winding roads to the campgrounds. At a faster pace the photo processor and printer bouncing in the trailer would have made mediocre firewood. At the entrance to the grounds, Ginnie a wiry woman, bobbed hair, studded ears, and cigarettes waved us down. She seemed to emerge from a space of conversation reserved for partners that have long been together, a comfort closely paralelling and perhaps aligning with and being happiness. Physically the space was a fire, a golfcart, a camper, tents and Glen.
The campground was deserted except for one other campgroup and the caretakers Glen and Ginnie. Emily, Joe and I spent the night of the 22nd pitching the tent and passing a bottle of wine and smoking around the fire. Topics of conversation: the trip, direction of Roosterhouse, the stars in the bowl above us, the loonlike calls of the West Virginian screech owl.
On the 23rd, from her golfcart Ginnie pointed out a peak above us on the skyline. The sundried beige point jutted out from fall turning trees and seemed to overlook the entirety of the park. She gave us directions, we repeated them and she parroted and again we parroted her.
“We’re tent campers” Ginnie had told us, meaning they lived in the park year round emerging for supplies and breakfasts at Mallow’s and Traditions 15 miles away.
Glen is a largish man with a white fur chest on tanned skin and like Ginnie in his 60s. Glen’s hands are soft and he wears glasses to read the minimalist rules of the park to us. Their kids visit them in the park and had been practically raised there, pulling fish out of the rivers and blowing sycamore leaves off of the paths.
Emily, Joe and I set out for the peak an hour before sunset on the 23rd walking along the South Branch Potomac River and then past a 19th century picket fence gravesite. From there we went straight up the mountain having to rest four or five times on shale outcroppings. The angle of the mountain steep enough to cause every stone dislodged by our steps to roll down towards the gravesite.
The mountains in West Virginia are not the mountains of Colorado but rather really steep hills that typically block out a third of the sky. They are covered with trees: oaks, sycamores, pines, and at their base junctures tiny streams carry leaves away. The topography of West Virginia makes driving an entertainment, a back and forth, speed up and slow down pace with plenty of blind curves and unmarked pavement. Other than the mountains the scenery consisted of black cattle and dilapidated trailer homes. Locals have a tendency to stare and hold conversations by their trucks at the end of their driveways. The people have a character that is much their own.
At the top of mountain we found a farmstead that without truck paths and mowed yard would have appeared completely deserted. We turned back and spent some time climbing trees and admiring the vista. The day was already a light grey darkness and we abandoned plans of finding the peak along the ridgeline. This was the top of this particular mountain and we left satisfied at that.
From there it was straight down the mountain knowing that the river was below. We spent the next few hours clinging to trees or falling to them until it was obvious that the best way to climb down a mountain was to not climb. This meant sitting in a rowing position. According to preference you tucked one leg under you or not and you slid. Slid down around trees, over stones, slid on dry layers of leaves down, bumping down and landing on soft beds of leaves three or four feet thick.
We slid in the darkness only using the flashlight to inspect the occasional ridge that dropped twenty or thirty feet. A fall off one of these meant being impaled on dead branches and a stoning even Jesus would not have approved of. Nothing compares to mountain sliding. You dug your heals in plowing paths before you, filling your bags with leaves, collecting scratches and bruises along the way. You had some control braking with branches and you had just enough sight to discern trees from space.
We found the river and soaked ourselves in it and crossed it. We then tramped across paths and over fallen wood trespassing and untrespassing. No moonlight guided us. We considered sleeping in the woods until morning. We backtracked and recircled. We were lost. We followed the river and then Emily spotted a sign across the river but was forced to retreat by a large mouldy brown eel. But she had to cross anwyay and did so skittering across it like a water spider.
From there it was camp and then fire, counting bruises and roasting marshmallows.
Arrival: Huntington, West Virginia
Huntington was pleasant surprise, past West Virginian hills, shaved down in layers, steppes, finally leading down brick alleys to a big house well over a hundred years old with plenty of brick and room. Here a woman had lived her life and died here, and hustlers had come and gone leaving furniture behind and the non-biodegradable remnants of a growing operation.
Tiana gave us a tour round through the house and finally outside to the garden, lined up in rows of carrots, beets, raddishes, more. A soundscape of growling cicadas like grounded helicopters above our heads.
We ate at Hillbilly Hotdog, sort of a local common-cultural landmark. Tires for tables, toilets for seats, gumball machines that don’t dispense gum. Menu consisted mostly of hotdogs dressed up in fiesta wear, Italian, or however you like it next to the fifteen pound hamburger for $50 and the fifteen inch hotdog.
And the rest of the night hung out with the gang playing Katamari, a game seemingly based on the concept of a dung beetle’s life and mixed with a good degree of cosmology. You started rolling pencils and popcans into a ball ending with rolling stars, planets and universes. The end point being some sort of mass oneness. And this all because God went on a bender one day leaving you to put it back together.
From there it was Yuengling beer and conversations about fear and life. All of it personal and vital and all because the unbearable lightness of existence behind our breath. After hummus and green salsa, Nich finally walking us through neighborhoods, all of us a beer warmth and slightly stoned satisfaction, tramping through yards of boarded houses, following massive chains meant for ocean hydras, following them back up from the beach through a playground and finally to the Ohio River (Ohio-West Virginia River anyone?).
All us by then just Karl, Emily, Joe, Tiana, and Nich wanting to swim but knowing we’d get sick if we did. But content watching the pillars of light melt and reform in the shadows of the river. Watching a single barge with a giant finger of light tracing up and down the banks. We sat on logs kicking at a pesticide spray cannister and a wire rope noose, stepping on plastic bottles talking about Twain, about Failblog, and desires to leave school, leave the debt behind and trying to figure out how. But how with complex social mazes. We can go forward but only with some degree of full consideration.
We left town eating at Biscuit World, local chain, Tudors, leaving in the morning with the sense that friends are easy to make and you hope they can get a chance to come to Duluth and Minnesota.
09.20.09 – 09.21.09
Departure: 9, 10, or 11 pm from Hard Times Cafe, Minneapolis, MN
Destination: Mineral Wells, West Virginia.
Objective: Retrieve Thermaphot Photographic Print Machine and Ilford Cibachrome Film Processor
Somewhere along Highway ET in Wisconsin it became apparent we were on the road on some bastard of a time trip. Picking up photographic equipment whose heyday coincided with the early years of the Clinton administration. This was old stuff, chemicals. Use might require a breathing mask. At least ventilation.
Vehicle: Black Toyota 279,000 miles on its heart
Music: Black Angels, Black Joe Louis and the Honey Bears, Furious Five
And… some righteous obliteration of pop music, music shredded and the jagged scraps soldered together recalling some vague memory of a dream’s dream.
And those late hours on treadmill highways headed east. The reason for it all was put into a neat two line dialogue. “Is that digital?” some patron of the arts would ask. “No, it’s real,” the photographer would reply.
Digital vs. film, that argument, one already dead by the numbers. What’s real these days? Film, that kook of a material, certainly could be real but bring it to the pharmacy and some where along the line the reality is lost in the translation. At least according to Holly, the photo specialist at the local grocery. She gave us a tour of the photo lab, developed film and made pictures before our eyes, and the non-magic behind the curtain turned out to be some nimrod computer pecking away at bits. The crucial point lay in that the negatives are optically scanned (turned into digital images) and then printed onto paper. No contact paper. No magic of chemistry and the interaction of light. Just a copymachine interpreter with higher end rouges.
Minneapolis, Madison, Chicago, Indianapolis, Louisville lay behind us. Another tool to be acquired for Roosterhouse, another attempt at preserving an aesthetic, a process of color that shouldn’t be as Holly claimed it was to be “relegated to third world countries.”
Highlife playing at 2009: A Beer Odyssey: We’re Highlife, and We’re from Outer Space (1.5mb mp3)
What sort of man drives a Lamborghini? An insider. A city-bred guy on the go who enjoys his leisure as fast paced as his livelihood. The kind of guy who knows where to find what he wants – from the loveliest playmates to the liveliest parties. In the working world, his present is bright and his future is assured. He’s a can-do young guy with an eye on the top job – and the training to handle it. Yes, he’s young man sailing through the best years of his life. Constantly seeking the excitingly unusual and the unusually exciting: a man of action.
From the table came the light; shadows disappeared below the fingers. One large piece of glass on the beginnings of a tank chassis. One small button : eight rods of light. From this view the whole world looks in play.