Thursday, March 8, 2018

Riding Out Riley

On Friday, Wind Storm Riley hit us. I had known it would be windy but didn't take it seriously enough, and therefore didn't prepare. It had been a very blowy drive to work, being jostled and bustled from side to side as I struggled to keep between the lines on Rte 66 in the dark, wanting to avoid country lanes where trees might be down. I did think that far ahead. But as I sat at work listening to the wind tugging furiously at the metal roof overhead, and sounding like drums in a heavy rock band, I started wishing I'd done more at home. Apparently the power went down just after I left at 6:00am and I worried about Kota getting cold. I left work early, glad to be missing the heavy traffic.
 As I sat at a junction the traffic lights above me bounced up and down on their cables as though jumping a skipping rope. I marveled at how they stayed attached. The leaves were lifted and thrown across the road and even as I sat stationary, the car was rocking. As the lights turned green, I quickly accelerated, just in case those lights fell on top of Stanley, and did the same at every other junction where I passed, every light jostling and jiggling furiously, looking like at any moment they would wrench free of their constraints.
There were plenty of tree limbs down on the way home, some had already been chopped up and neatly stacked on the sides of the road. It was very tempting to stop and load up with this bountiful fire wood but I wanted to be home, worried about Kota getting cold. I was glad to finally pull up and rush indoors. The house was chilly and poor Kota and Rosie Lee were huddled up on the sofa. Dropping my bags I started up the wood stove immediately. It took a while to catch, the wind actually blowing down the chimney as though determined to thwart my attempts at kindling the starter wood. but the flames defied the cold blasts, flickering weakly at first but rapidly building in strength and heat. I pulled two chairs in front of the open flames and plonked the cats down, one on each. They looked at me and each other wonderingly, but then feeling the heat, settled down to bask in the warmth.
I quickly opened the fridge to pull out water bottles and the milk, then closed the door again, hoping the temperature would remain cool inside. The milk would now stay out on the back step, the wind would keep it chilled. I usually plan ahead for storms, filling containers and the bath in readiness, but this time I just hadn't thought we'd lose power, so I had no water at all apart from 1 gallon.
I put a saucepan of water on the stove for a much needed mug of tea. The cats watched through the patio doors, sticking close together as they tried to make sense of the racket outside. The dusk slowly crept in and the gales grew louder, as if screaming banshees were circling the house. I went outside to ensure the tarps were secure over my wood pile and stood staring at the trees. It was frightening, feeling the force of the gales and listening to them thundering through the woods towards me like a giant beast. It was a long evening with just a pale yellow light from the wood stove and an oil lamp lighting the room. Kota and Rosie Lee huddled up against me on the sofa and I read a book, my concentration constantly broken with the sound of the howling storm and branches being hurled on to the metal roof or thrown against the back of the house.
I had hoped that I'd wake up the next morning and see my alarm clock flickering on and off, waiting for the time to be reset, but there was still no power. The living room was freezing with poor little Kota sat in the rocking chair, staring at the wood stove with its bank of cold grey ashes as though he was willing flames to erupt in front of him. His desire was met within a few minutes as I made lighting the fire my first concern. I had a charged power pack for my phone and swapped messages with Bheki across the other side of the hill. We were the only ones who had stayed, everyone else had fled the previous day. Maggi always hides up in a Marriott hotel suite during these episodes, a great idea if you can afford it! Breakfast was a mug of tea and yesterday's pizza heated over the wood stove. I'd left it in the car overnight to keep it cool. I kept looking at the clock as I'd made plans to drive down to Verona, VA for a militant march being held at noon. I had no political interest but I'd thought it would be an excellent photo shoot. If the power came on early enough, I could switch on the heating and then drive down there. It didn't happen. But I found out on Monday that it had been canceled, so it seemed that karma had kicked in to ensure I didn't go, there'd been no cancellation notices on Saturday or before...
Power finally came back on Saturday afternoon. I love that sound of the oven clicking as its clock kicks in. Listening to the fridge start its whirring again and the fan on the wood stove breathe its low hum, it really made me aware of just how much we take for granted. The first thing I needed was a shower and then to do the washing up. I enjoy the 'camping' atmosphere during a power outage but not the clear up afterwards. I rushed around while Kota and Rosie Lee hovered by the door, wanting to get outside. The winds were still high but there was a sense of calmness, of survival, we'd made it through. Rosie Lee wasn't too keen on being blustered about so scurried back indoors, but Kota was resilient. He was once buffeted so hard that he nearly keeled over, promptly sitting down with the shock and looking up at me mieowing. I picked him up and we walked across the fields.
Underneath the trees we found a brief respite from the strong gales. It seemed unfair somehow that they still persisted. The sun was shining brightly and we just wanted the winds gone, they had had their moment of center stage. During the brief still moments when it seemed the winds were taking a deep breath before they puffed again, the sun felt wonderfully warm, so glorious that for a few fleeting seconds I wanted to take my jacket off and walk in just my t-shirt. But then a gust would fly across the hills with renewed energy causing the temperature to plummet once again. Kota got his fresh air but was ready to return to the warm fireside.
The rest of the weekend stayed cold and blowy with many residents still with no power. I felt very grateful that I had mine and made a point of thanking Dominion Power and their fabulous workers. They had linesmen from Florida helping them forming a crew of nearly 4000 that worked 24/7. They were not supposed to be working from up in their buckets in winds of more than 35mph but I know that was overlooked, making me even more respectful of these workers who were doing everything in their power ('scuse the pun) to get their clients back on line, (sorry, and another one...)  They later told us that Windstorm Riley "ranks as one of the top five most damaging storms in Dominion Energy history, topped only by Hurricanes Floyd, Isabel and Irene, and the Super Derecho of 2012."
The community had certainly rallied together too. Those who had power early opened their homes so folks still without could have hot showers and meals  Social media was buzzing with offers of help, and our local church was ladling out free hot chili and cornbread. If I hadn't eaten before reading that I would have gone. so all ended well and none were happier than me and my little fluffy room mates, glad that life had calmed back down again. Can we have Spring now?

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Busting into Budd

On a miserable, damp and drippy Saturday, our Urbexia group drove up to Philly to explore an old factory building that had once been a manufacturing plant for trolley car bodies, plane shells, missile and space vehicles along with other body parts of the vehicle industry.
 In its heyday the Budd Company had been a hive of activity, but today the building stood silent, tall and empty, its walls cracked and peeling, window panes smashed and daubed with graffiti. It had opened in 1912, developing all steel automobile bodies, which had previously been made of wood, and also the technique of welding pieces together without causing erosion, the 'shotweld' technique. The company stopped manufacturing here in 2002 and any Budd built cars remaining are highly prized due to their high quality construction and design.
The building was dark and huge as we entered, like a deep cave. The only sounds were the constant drips from leaks above as the rain kept up a constant barrage outside.The floor was nearly completely covered by an inch deep of water. We hopped from one dry patch to another but before long I was just trudging through the wetness, glad I had on my waterproof hiking boots but still the bottoms of my jeans were soaked, large circles of dark blue climbing up the backs of my legs.
 We strolled in and started shooting. And then after about 7 photos the battery in my camera died. I nearly screamed. The green light had shone on the charger when I had checked it last night and my spare batteries had been lost last weekend during my snow shots at Blandy. I was furious but there was no point in venting. Instead this would give me a chance to try out my new iPhone in low light, so all following photos are shot on that. I have also since purchased new camera batteries and a charger...
I amazed myself by not being supremely pissed off at my lack of technology. The phone was actually able to take relatively good images and it was just great to be out urbexing again after so many months absence. The lack of abandonments is saddening, we have to travel so far now to explore something new, and most of where we've been exist no longer, pummeled to the ground, converted into new businesses or residences, or simply so far gone that any interesting artifacts or architecture have either disintegrated with erosion or been destroyed by destructive hands.
Furbex, Margie's stuffed kitty, made an appearance, looking quite contented on a ledge by a broken window. The building was vast, most floors looking the same but I soon knuckled down, different views and perspectives catching my eye. It was a challenge to see things in a new way. A friend on Facebook likened the rooms with huge pillars to scenes on Gustave Dore engravings and I kind of saw where he was going, but was pleased I hadn't heard the reference before I came here, his etchings all possess an ominous quality.
The shot above was the only image that I wished I had my camera working. The area was dark so my phone couldn't capture the folds in this hanging plastic very well. The constant rain had formed large expanses of water on the floor, creating wonderful reflections that we all played around with. Richard had been here before on a sunny day, the sun's rays and blue skies enabling him to capture more vibrant and warmer shots than today's dreary and more dismal scenes. I peered out of broken panes onto peeling roofs, shards of glass sitting on the window ledges and scattered on the ground below. The only color in the building was the graffiti on the walls, columns and still hanging doors, vivid yellow and orange peels of paints curing downwards on old breaker boxes. Some of the square window panes had been painted in, as though someone had felt more color needed to be added to the drabness surrounding us.
Really liked this graffiti, it could be our motto.
All the levels of the building were vast open areas surrounded by walls of glass, much of it smashed and allowing in the miserable weather, a constant plopping of rain drops accompanying us wherever we went. Each floor also had a locker room but little had survived, the building had been cleared of all internal structure apart from the column supports. My enthusiasm was waning some when Margie scarpered away from a window towards me, a look of alarm that I'd never seen on her face before. She'd seen 4 men in the building opposite, which we though connected to ours, but wasn't sure of their status, whether they were security, homeless or simply explorers like us. Her anxiety flowed over towards me and I wondered if after my few months break from urbexing I'd lost my nerve. We decided to go downstairs while Emily and Richard continued to a higher floor.
But once outside we were soon bored and I was regretting our rushed departure. But regret turned to renewed enthusiasm when we discovered that the door to the power building was open. We snuck in and discovered a room that actually contained some machinery.
We walked around the rusting turbine and climbed up the metal stairs so we could see the machinery higher up. A galley led back to the main building but we didn't linger there. The others found us and soon we wrapped up our session as bellies growled and a yearning for craft beer consumed us all.
 A couple of hours later, with sated appetites, we were driving through the dark to return home, with an additional passenger, a huge loaf of bread that weighed the same as a small dog. It sat between the two front seats while we all tugged pieces from its hugeness to nibble on. Very heavy but very tasty!
 Plans were made for the Budd buildings to be converted into a commerce center. The company covered a huge tract of land, 75 acres, so this will be a massive undertaking. Budd was one of the city's largest manufacturers and 600 jobs were lost when it closed, yet over 1000 jobs will hopefully be created with the new development.
 A wonderful photo collection of Budd operations here.
Some lovely Budd advertisement paintings by Leslie Ragan, Part 1, and Part 2.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Dancing Feathers and Snowflakes

My hopes of joining Urbexia on Saturday for a day of exploring were dashed by the weather. Snow and freezing rain were forecast for the afternoon and it was now supposed to start earlier than predicted the day before. But camera batteries were charged so I needed to find an alternative. I had no intention of spending all day indoors, especially if the impending snow storm was going to leave me trapped on the hill on Sunday.
A search on the internet for local activities landed me on the site of the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley which was having a free open day today. They also had The Star Road Dance Company from Taos, N.M performing to celebrate the opening of a new exhibit, 'Hear My Voice' , showcasing Native American art from different cultures across centuries, the first Native American themed exhibition to be shown here. I grabbed my bags and headed out to Winchester.
It seemed much of the town's population had the same idea as me, there were large crowds and the parking lot was almost full. I had nearly an hour until the first dance performance so went upstairs to see the exhibition. It was a little unclear whether photography was allowed or not. One person said I could use my camera, but no flash, while another said only cell phones without flash were permissible. I took only a few images, it was so quiet in there and I didn't see any other photographers so I packed mine away, not wanting to appear rude.
The exhibits were stunning. The detail and evident hours of patience that had gone into creating these pieces was mind boggling. Art pieces were made of bone set with turquoise, jet, lapis, mother of pearl and other gems. If bones became scarce the Native American s would get their bones from Chicago where slaughterhouses were plentiful. Dyes were made naturally and baskets were made from different barks and rushes and even feathers. The shirt above was spectacular, I would have loved to wear it while hiking. The owner would have earned it by showing great bravery while hunting or in battle. It was made from hides and decorated with porcupine quills, glass beads, feathers, horsehair and fur. The stitch work was exquisite.
I joined the line of people waiting to enter the auditorium where the dancing would take place. I noticed many were wearing their Native American style jewelry and for the first time realized mine looked similar. I've always preferred silver to gold and in the past year have found myself admiring turquoise, now worn on a bangle on my wrist and on a necklace.
 I was amazed to be able to snag a seat right in front of the performers, discovering also that I was sitting next to an elderly gentleman who was the father of Kel Rainer, the main drummer and singer of the troupe. He proudly showed me his footwear that Kel had adorned for him, hand sewn beads onto tennis shoes, that he called, 'mocashoes'.
Kel's children were performing with him, Kayl Rainer, 15, Kenyon Olsen-Rainer, 21, Pretty Plume Rainer, 6, and also his uncle. They began with drumming and singing. Kel explained that many of the southern songs were actually prayers and he had written songs for his children which they performed. He wrote these to make them feel special and so they would remember him. As head singer he had complete control of the songs and drumming, often making gestures for the others to follow. The loud beats are called 'honor beats', usually heard during the verses. It was mesmerizing, sending tingles down my spine. The room reverberated and the drums thumped through the floor. There were a couple of local newspaper photographers who had initially plonked themselves right in front of us with their bags and huge cameras. I felt very smug sitting in my perfect seat as they were asked to leave the floor and had to stand to the sides. I didn't abuse my position though, and only took photos for the first few seconds of each dance, resting my camera on my lap to give my full attention to the dances and songs. I did make the mistake of asking my new friend a question during a performance and was instantly dismissed, a lesson in respect quickly learned and I didn't interrupt again.
Pretty Plume was the first to dance, wearing her jingle dress, decorated in traditional elk beads and Sioux bead work. Supposed to sound like rain, they are dresses of healing. The cones are usually made from tobacco lids but Kel explained that he's seen some using bullet casings, which must have been heavy. Pretty Plume jangled her way around the arena and received thunderous applause.
Kayl was up next, looking resplendent in his regalia. The boys performed northern traditional plains dances and we were told these usually involved acting out hunting scenes. Huge feathers from bald and golden eagles adorned them and we were asked to refrain from touching these. They are are earned by good behavior or dancing. Kayl also had stitched all the bead work on his costume himself.
Kenyon, below, while waiting to dance, was hailed as being single by his father, causing a lot of tittering in the crowd. He's a champion dancer and singer and wore a very similar outfit to Kayl, although apparently he didn't sew the bead work, instead relatives helped him.
After his routine, Pretty Plume performed a side-step dance, which we were told involves needing very strong calf muscles, and then the boys came back out for a duck and dive dance, showing warriors searching for the enemy and ending with a battle cry of winning. Warriors always advance and never retreat, which is why dancers never dance backwards. They started off crouching and slowly circling, then whirled and leaped, feathers and beads flying as they twisted and whirled. It was breathtaking, especially being so close to them, feeling the whoosh as they spun in front of me.
The whole performance lasted nearly an hour but felt like 10 minutes.They even let us have our photos taken with them, a first for me to have my picture taken with the real owners of this country; it was even a little humbling.
I had to rush out afterwards. There was another performance at 1:30 but the snow would be falling by then and I was anxious to be on top of my hill before it got bad. I drove towards Blandy to see Bill as the first flakes fluttered on to the windscreen. I met Bill and we drove around the farm taking photos of the fast whitening scenery.
The roads were still clear so I was OK to hang out for a while and somehow ended up stopping until Bill finished work. We jumped in and out of the car to take shots, noticing that the flakes were getting bigger and the wind was blowing stronger. I should have left then but was enjoying myself and when a pint at the local pub was suggested, I heartily agreed. We chatted at the warm bar until I looked out of the one window behind us. Huge gusts of snow were blowing across the window pane and it was completely white outside, the snow even sticking to the bark of the tree in view. I had to get home.
 The drive was treacherous. Even though the roads were slushy, they were slippery since none of them had been treated. I passed 4 cars off the road and never once went above 30 mph. The journey seemed interminable and I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I saw our hill. But for the first time ever I was unable to get up it, all wheels unable to grip. I tried 8 times and then had to give up, instead driving up a hill further down the road which wasn't quite so steep, and then skidding across fields until I finally reached Meadow House. I had made it home just as dusk was beginning to fall, snow still falling like feathers all around me.