Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Last Days of White Flint Mall, MD

I took Monday off as a vacation day, planning to spend the whole day working on a website that I'm building for a client, but then I spotted a friend's photos on Facebook of a shopping mall in Maryland. It is nearly completely empty and his photos conveyed a sense of awesome abandonment so that I fully expected to look at the next photo and see a zombie or monster staggering past a desolate escalator or crashing through an empty store window. I had to go and see for myself! So after forcing myself to complete a few hours on the website, I rushed out of the door and drove to Bethesda.
It seems that the closure of the mall wasn't favored by everyone and a few websites were started up for supporters. Friends of White Flint Mall kept a running commentary of meeting minutes, and the Washington Post took a farewell tour of the premises.
Even Lawrence Lerner, the brother of Ted Lerner,who owns the Washington Nationals. sued the owners of the mall in a last ditch effort to prevent the closure. But apparently all to no avail. I arrived at the nearly empty parking lot, and pulling up in front of the mall, noticed immediately the missing Dave and Busters sign, an ugly circular opening at the top of the facade where it had once been.
I threw my camera bag on my back and headed towards the doors, noting that to the right it looked as though some demolishing had already started. Signs warning of asbestos clearing were visible and as I walked through the glass doors the air was musty and a little moldy.
 I took some fun shots at the doors then stepped inside the building proper. The first thing I noticed was that it was freezing! I could hear the AC laboring heavily, probably still running on mid summer settings although it was now fall. The lights were bright but the once colorful and enticing store windows were now blank, dark, many covered with heavy opaque paper. I spotted a jewelers but as I peered inside, my inquisitive look was met with a frosty glare of two people packing up the remnants of display pieces. I turned a corner and saw Lord & Taylors at the end. I knew the store was still open but somehow I wasn't quite sure, there seemed to be a gloominess about the place despite the bright store lights. PF Chang's restaurant next door was also open, but I'd assumed this when I saw the huge horse statues out the front, despite that they'd looked tatty and neglected.
I walked the empty corridors and occasionally came across a flickering light that scuttled my senses a little. There really is something creepy about an empty shopping mall, I guess I've watched too many zombie movies. But the sound of the sporadic wailing screech from the escalators as they slowly rattled round and the distant squealing of kids fooling around in the distance really played on my mind. I only saw two other people walking about, one old man shuffling along with his head down and a young teenager, also with her head down, but in her case looking at her phone.
I had taken quite a few photos and was lining up a last shot of the double escalators when a man approached me and told me to stop taking photos. My finger pressed down, click. I took the one I wanted, glad my shutter sounds had been turned off, then turned to him with a broad smile. He informed me that photography wasn’t allowed and that I should stop. I mentioned that there were no signs on any doors prohibiting photography and that there were already hundreds of public photos of the mall on line. He agreed and asked if I wanted to talk to the building manager. I accepted his offer and we went up to the top floor where I was introduced to a lady with a limp handshake. I knew immediately that this would be a fruitless discussion and I was proved right. She was not open to any photography and even said she’d take down the photos already on line if she could. But she would not give a reason as to why it was not allowed, even when I said folks took photos of shopping malls all over the world. I gave in and politely thanked her for her time, wishing I had the courage to let her know about the huge lumps of mascara on her right cheek, that my focus had drawn to like a magnet, throughout our whole conversation.
I walked out of the building, respecting her wishes not to take any more photos, even though I didn’t understand why, and took a last long look at the battered mall as I turned the ignition key.A quote from About.com says, "The new mixed development project will feature residential, office, retail and public uses including a large central plaza, a 2.3 acre addition to the existing White Flint Neighborhood Park, and an elementary school site. The White Flint Mall project will front Rockville Pike and the eastern part of Executive Boulevard, which, along with Nebel Street, will be extended into the site. A hotel is planned along Executive Boulevard, as well as offices. Residences are planned to include a mix of mid-rise and high-rise multi-family buildings. A series of new streets will be built to include ample sidewalks and attractive streetscapes that encourage walking. The majority of parking for the development will be underground."
A comment on the Washington Post that talked about the redevelopment summed it up for me, " it looks like suburban sprawl is being replaced with urban sprawl."

A Rustic Ride along Rural Roads

On Sunday I grabbed my camera and decided to go for a drive in the countryside. The foliage was starting to turn but most of the mountains and lanes were still predominantly green. Yet the scenery out here is always beautiful regardless of the leaf color and today the heavy grey skies lent a sinister moody air to the landscape.
I drove down a road not yet traveled by Stuart and myself, so we pottered along slowly enjoying every vista. I was heading towards an old mill I'd seen photos of and was also hoping there would be water nearby. I've developed an avid interest in stone balancing and have a couple of friends on Facebook who have perfected this skill, producing beautiful works of art. If nobody was about at the creek I fancied having a go to see how hard it was.
I found the creek and was thrilled to see it had plenty of water running through with a multitude of round, smooth rocks. And nobody was about! I scrambled down to the bank and not really knowing how to start just concentrated on looking for stones that felt 'nice'. It was pretty difficult to crouch down as my knee is still healing so I had to cope with bending down instead, which didn't feel quite right. But I persisted on trying out stones and soon found that the work had a calming influence. It seemed as though I could feel the weight of the rocks pouring down through each one as I moved them around finding the right balance spot. The water was cold and I wished I had worn my jacket but I persevered and soon had a couple of basic structures which I was really proud of!
 I'm definitely going to be coming here again to do this, it was very therapeutic, but I really need to be able to crouch down and maybe even be in the water. I hope I get a few more opportunities to do this before winter. My main influence is Michael Grab, his structures are incredible. Check out this link.
I left my structures standing and crossed over the bridge, glad to be able to stretch my legs with the walk. The barn was looking in a sorry state and in dire need of some TLC.
There used to be two barns here but only this structure remains standing, the Avon Mill, once a neutral trading site during the Civil War. As I walked around I spotted a 'for sale' banner hanging down from a top window. The ground level was flooded from the nearby creek but higher up the huge beams looked to be in OK condition. I hoped someone would restore the building soon, it would make a wonderful craft shop or winery.
I got back into Stuart and continued my meanderings along the country lanes.
I stopped occasionally as a view caught my eye. I saw signs for the Rappahannock Hunt and drove for a while with my window down and my head leaning out, listening for a horn bugling or hounds baying, but no luck. But then I rounded a corner and couldn't believe what I saw. A zebra grazing in a field!
What a splendid sight! I parked on the verge and jumped out to hang over the fence. Clicking my tongue furiously, low whistling and cooing had a zero effect on this stoic creature. He and his zonkey pal ignored me completely and so I had to settle with zooming my camera in on them for a few photos. I suppose they're used to receiving lots of attention and I cursed myself for once again forgetting to bring carrots and apples on my drive. I had a chuckle when I got home and spotted the llama photobombing the top photo, I didn't see him at the time.
I carried on driving, stopping to capture scenes of stone pigs scuffling in the leaves, pumpkin lanterns, Christmas lights hanging on an abandoned house, scary monsters and a fall festival with no attendees. And then the scenery started looking familiar and I found myself passing England Mountain and wishing my knee was strong enough for a quick sprint up and down like I used to do only a few months ago. But I couldn't feel bad for long, the clouds were getting darker and heavier, spots of rain splashed the windscreen and I felt better knowing I couldn't have hiked even if I'd been able. And it will only be a few weeks before I can don my hiking boots again anyway. As if the weather read my mind the skies opened, rain crashing down on Stuart so loudly that it was almost deafening, and I drove slowly back home,  enjoying every glittering, vibrant leaf on the way.

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Creatures'Paradise at Poplar Springs Animal Sanctuary, MD

On Sunday I was joining some British friends at Poplar Springs Animal Sanctuary for their annual open day. I met up with Nancy first at Bassetts Place in Poolesville, MD for brunch.
The restaurant was delightfully decorated for fall, with pumpkins, corn sheaves and chrysanthemums stacked up against walls and filling corners. Our coffee was accompanied by two tiny warm muffins and then we were brought a glass of champagne to accompany our meal. I didn't realize how hungry I was until I smelled the bacon and we gratefully tucked in once our plates arrived. Everything was wonderful apart from the home fries. i didn't have my glasses on and could have sworn that they were canned mushrooms until I tasted them. Soft, brown and soggy, like they'd been reheated a few times. Pretty weird considering everything else was so good...
With full tummies we headed to the animal sanctuary and found we were among the first to arrive.
We had a quick look around the silent auction which was being set up. They had some fabulous stuff here but I'm not sure anyone would want this guitar, signed by the band members of Styx for $1000.
Then we walked over to the pigs. I'd never been so close to so many before and we were allowed to get in the field with them and walk about.
These were obviously very contented and happy porkers. I felt pretty guilty about my recent brunch and tried to make amends with lots of scratching, rubbing and tickling, which went down very well. Many of them just laid on the ground, grunting happily as I administered massages with lots of loving words and before long I was nearly as muddy as them. Some rubbed up against me while others just laid back, lapping up the fuss while squinting at me with their little eyes.
And this chap spent a good 15 minutes doing what pigs do best before settling down for a nap. Video here.
 The two photos above really show how large some of these omnivores were. I had initially been a little nervous, having read the Hannibal Lector books, and knew they would just as happily munch on me as I had on them earlier on. I was really having a problem with this fact and realized that I would never make a farmer or be able to have a small holding if it meant my stock was for eating. But at least my new friends here would never end up on a plate and I enjoyed watching them so evidently relishing their sanctuary.
The horse, Darcy, on the left was once a racehorse. He had been left inside the gates one day with his eyes infected and severely malnourished. He is now blind but looking much healthier and so he can find the other horses, they all wear little bells on their halters. In the distance to the right is Gloria, a 38 year old mule.
They had great food with local beer and wine being served, although their alcohol prices were way too low, so I told them. After all, today was a day to raise money for the animals.
This dear little chap is Andy, an 18 month old sheep who was brought to the sanctuary and left by an owner who never got an infection looked at. This resulted in his back legs being paralysed and so now he has a little cart which he powers with his front legs. The sanctuary is looking to raise money for a larger cart since he is outgrowing his current one. He loved all the attention he got from his new friends and his dear little face brought a lump to my throat.
 There's also a large area with a barn and outbuildings for a variety of hens, ducks, gooses, a turkey and a peacock, with a few rabbits roaming amongst them all too. Everyone seems to get on wonderfully and even the local deer even bring their babies here to leave them in safety while they go looking for food.
Edward the peacock arrived in 2005 at 1 year old, he'd been confiscated by authorities after being left outside in snow and ice with no food or water. Madison and Tallulah came from an organic turkey farm and were donated by their rescuer who couldn't keep them. Lola the bunny arrived in 2010 when a college student realized that her new pet wouldn't have a good life in a college dorm. Perry the turkey was left in a crate on the sanctuary's driveway on Thanksgiving 2012.
Another large field with a barn is home to some sheeps and goats, who again are very friendly and sociable. I would have liked to get in among them and distribute some cuddles but the lines were very long, the staff were very thoughtfully limiting the number of visitors in the field at one time.
We went back to the silent auction and I placed a couple of bids on a picture I really loved, of a boat sitting on still water in the serenity of a silent morning mist. My second bid was the last on the list and with less than 10 minutes before the end of the auction I hovered and paced up and down and around the table, trying not to look too obvious. And then suddenly time was called, it was mine! But a lady walked up to my sheet with a pencil in hand, and looked as though she was about to write a late bid, until I politely whispered that the auction had ended. She graciously backed off. I'll put a better photo up on my daily photo blog.
I'm pretty sure Poplar Springs had a wonderfully successful event and raised plenty of money. They haven't posted anything yet on their website which is here. They certainly had a great turn out and have a fabulous group of people helping them and the animals. I think I'll be making this an annual event.
Carolyn, Nancy and I got in our cars and decided to grab dinner in Leesburg. We trundled through country lanes before taking the Whites Ferry back to Virginia. It was quite amusing sitting in our cars with a multitude of skeletons, who were waiting for Halloween,  looking down at us. I also wondered later if our day at the animal sanctuary had subconsciously affected us as we all, without saying anything,  avoided anything that contained meat on the menu for dinner!