Thursday, March 23, 2017

Footprints by the Falls

On Saturday I had hoped to go for a bike ride but the group leader canceled the event due to the cold temperatures and ice still on the trail. So I grabbed my backpack and camera and headed instead for the hills to hike.
The valleys on the way to the mountains were peaceful with some mists clinging to the peaks while strips of snow hid in the shade behind walls. I'd decided to hike Hazel Falls and was going to start the hike from the base, wanting to finish on a decline rather than puffing up steep slopes. I'd seen the small parking lot filled every time I passed by, but today there were only 3 vehicles there, and no one on the trail as I set off.
There was a lot of rock hopping over the creek or across flooded parts of the path, and I hadn't climbed too high before snow started covering the trail. It hadn't melted yet up here but I was still surprised to notice that the footprints were old, soft edges with no tread marks of the shoes visible. It seemed that I was the first person hiking here today.
After a while the grass disappeared and the only green was the feathery needles of the white pines, rhododendron leaves and the moss on rock faces. White snow was starting to carpet the woodland floor and the trail.The constant sound of the water trickling and gurgling over the rocks as it tumbled down the mountain was a welcome companion and a woodpecker occasionally hammered on a hollow trunk. The air was still, crisp and clean, this was a great day to be hiking. The day had started out a foggy, cold grey, probably encouraging the city folks to snuggle down further in their warm beds, yet  now the sun was shining with the temperatures rising as the morning progressed, and not dropping as I'd assumed on my climb higher still.
The creek became part of a gorge as I progressed up the mountain, huge bare rock faces on one side and a steep drop on one side of the path. As the trail left the creek it climbed higher still but the snow also got deeper. It had been slippery in the 4" I'd trudged through, but now parts of the path were about 6" deep. I hadn't brought my hiking poles and didn't have spikes on my shoes so I was worried about losing my footing, especially with my camera swinging about my neck. After another 20 minutes or so I gave up and started to descend. This was much more perilous and I lost my grip more than a few times, slipping on the snow which was now becoming slushy around the footprints I'd made on the way up.
I slipped and slid my way down to where the path was more level, thankful that I hadn't hiked to the top. The warm sun was working fast on the snow, the whiteness disappearing to a grey watery slush and exposing a muddy path beneath. It had been hard work on that slippy slope and I was glad to feel safer back on solid ground.
I passed a guy who had looked, when approaching me, as though he was going for a solitary walk to find a quiet spot to read or draw. He was clutching a leather bound book or case and it wasn't until I drew level with him that I realized he was barefoot. He was pretty sturdy if he was aware of the deeper snow higher up and I wondered if he was on some meditative journey.
I reached the parking lot and saw more cars, although I had no idea where the owners were, but it was a good 20 degrees warmer than it had been when I'd set out. I threw my jacket into the car and decided to try out Sperryville's new brewery,  Pen Druid. I was the only one in there but others entered after a few minutes.
 A 'bare bones' but friendly brewery, I was soon enamored with their beers, which today, were a selection of six. I ordered a flight to taste them all, becoming a huge fan of the Mercury IPA and the Telemachus Dark Sour, but really they were all superb. The place had a nice cozy ambience, without the industrial feel that so many breweries aim for today. I happily sat supping and chatting to a couple of regulars before I suddenly remembered I had to be in Silver Spring for a 5pm viewing of an art film called Kedi. It was just before 3pm whenI reluctantly left, managing to stop at home first and then arriving at the theater 10 minutes late. The movie was moving and engaging, a serious 'must see' for cat lovers, the dark auditorium constantly cooing and aahing as the cat actors came into view. Afterwards we ate dinner and drank beer at a local women owned brewery but it wasn't a patch on Pen Druid. Back at home I looked up Telemachus, curious to see what it meant. A mighty fine name for a mighty fine beer.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Ravaged Ruins Remembered

It was yet another freezing cold day on Sunday as Jeff and I arrived at Forest Haven. I haven't been here for a while, it was years ago that Jeff and I had explored it together, yet it's a dear old haunt that draws me back every so often, as though I have to be aware of every new piece of decay that will finally lead it to its eventual demise. We were prepared with spare batteries and hand warmers already piping hot in our pockets. Once again I decided to leave the tripod in the car, not wanting to constantly fiddle with icy knobs and metal legs.
As we approached the admin building, still grand and majestic and seemingly defiant in its advancing ruin, I admired the white blossoms and fresh pale green leaves that were popping out on branches. Sadness immediately followed as I thought of the impending snow storm, due to dump 13" on Monday night and cause the destruction of Mother Nature's fresh start to her new year. It seemed impossible that this event was only hours away as we stood in the warm sun and listened to a solitary mocking bird whistling us a greeting.
I tried to put the snow to the back of my mind and focused on the brick behemoth standing proudly in front of me. A couple of masks were hanging from the branches and we had in fact seen many of them, abandoned on the ground, as we came through the woods. We would discover as we walked around that these were likely the cast offs from the graffiti 'artists' who had also dumped multiple cans around the place as they created their 'art', a term I use very loosely as I didn't see one single effort that warranted a second glance or even closely resembled anything artistic.
Old window frames hung precariously from rotten windows, glass long gone and the wood soon to follow the same path, smashed on the ground below. As we entered, the cold still air inside the building surrounded and clung to us, and I dug my hands deep into my pockets, fingers wrapping around my hand warmers. Inches deep of plaster and asbestos dust covered the floor, compacted into hardness by hundreds of pairs of explorers' feet.
The rooms and corridors, now very familiar, had sunk into new depths of decay, more plaster on the floors, more peeling paint uncurling towards the ground, exposing more crumbling and rotten wood beneath. There was even less furniture than before, where did it go? And any paper records or glass bottles that had once been scattered, torn or smashed, or sat on window ledges or desks, were long gone. The place was becoming just a shell. Even the paint peels and ragged drapes were losing their vibrancy, the only real color now was the childish graffiti on doors and walls, almost an insult to the poor children who had once suffered here within these walls.
Jeff and I took head shots of each other through a still upright door then finished the last and third floor of the main building.
The staircases had become more precarious to ascend and descend, the fallen plaster causing the steps to disappear and become instead a slippery dusty slope. The morgue was barely recognizable and I was anxious to be back out into the fresh air. The building had such a heavy oppressive coldness about it, my core was chilled despite my thermal layers and hand warmers.
We walked towards a building that had once contained words of graffiti which had caused Jeff to explode into never ending laughter, with him reciting the phrase for the rest of the afternoon, setting him off chuckling once again. The words were still there, with additional lines added onto an adjacent wall. There wasn't anything else that warranted a photo as far as I was concerned so I left Jeff with his wall. I sat at an old school desk outside while Jeff continued to shoot photos inside, and soaked up the sun, savoring the surprising warmth that cut through the icy cold breeze. The blossoms brought beauty to the grounds and I fretted about whether they would still be surviving next week. The piercing cold wind was an indication of things to come, and under sheltered and shadowed roofs, frozen icicles hung from rotting eaves.
We walked into another building, now wide open, the doors hanging from smashed or crumbling hinges; a few years ago this had been almost impenetrable. The interior had also been emptied of much that had previously been here. Wooden work benches with old hand tools, piles of leather brief cases, old hospital equipment had disappeared, and old therapy baths, chairs, lockers and wardrobes which had been previously neatly stacked had now been thrown around or smashed to pieces.
The next building we entered had always been a little scary to me. Cold and dark with corridors of cells closed off by heavy doors incorporating a small thick pane of glass, it had seemed creepy, unfriendly and almost not completely unoccupied, as though lost souls still roamed in circles around the white tiled hallways. But today it felt like a building that had given up. Once again the doors were nearly all open, everything smashed inside, including a wonderful old piano which had provided many atmospheric photos on previous visits.
Gaudy, pointless graffiti daubed the walls, although Jeff loved some of the phrases. But it seemed like the place was caving in, an abject sense of surrender hanging in the air, Forest Haven was succumbing to the vandals and to nature and to time, resigning to its fate.
We moved onto the screen print shop. Again I was dismayed with the wreckage within. It was now almost impossible to walk about the room. Screens and anything not nailed down had been thrown about. The press had suffered further damage and was barely recognizable.
A stop at the church revealed the same treatment.
The colored glass windows had nearly all been smashed out and graffiti was painted on virtually every surface. It used to be awash with color in here on a sunny day, the sunshine throwing vibrant rays of red, green, yellow or blue across the floors and walls, but today the colored glass lay in shards and jagged pieces on the cold floor.
We stopped at one last building before leaving,  more modern, but which had fallen prey to the elements a lot faster than the older better built structures.
We didn't stay long in here, just a quick inspection from end to end. I detected an odd smell, something chemically caustic, and with the fine powder from the asbestos covered walkways drifting up, I decided I'd had enough. I walked into the courtyard and waited for Jeff to finish.
We wandered slowly to the exit, snatching a few more photos, lingering by an old basketball, taking in the monolithic old ruins, and then walked back up the path, littered with discarded empty cans of paint, and dozens of face masks left hanging on the bare branches.
An excellent article on forest Haven is here.,incorporating a wealth of information on the asylum.