Apr 02 2011
A week ago I stumbled across an auto graveyard hidden in a patch of urban woodland, all but invisible to passersby. I had a half-hour free, and my camera was in my bag, so I decided to do a bit of exploring. Here’s what greeted me as I turned my back on the asphalt:
The copse where I found the derelict cars comes alive with birdsong in spring. On this day, though, no birds sang. A few dried leaves rustled in the breeze, but that was all, apart from the distant drone of traffic on the state highway. I once worked as a geologist, supporting a team of archaeologists who were engaged in documenting various “cultural resources” threatened by proposed highway projects, and those resources included quite a few informal dumps. But I’d never encountered anything to equal this. And yet, with the exception of the abandoned cars and trucks themselves, the woodland was remarkably clean. There was none of the surface litter that defaces most quasi-public spaces in northern New York. But I had to watch where I stepped. Cinder blocks and car parts lay half-concealed beneath the thin carpet of duff, and the resulting hummocks made speedy progress all but impossible.
So I crept along cautiously, moving from one rusting hulk to the next, soaking up the atmosphere. In truth, it really did have the feel of a graveyard, part resting place and part memento mori, a poignant reminder that, notwithstanding the promises of advertising copywriters, nothing lasts forever. Each abandoned wreck had once been some family’s pride and joy, but every winter took its toll and the showroom shine soon faded, never to be restored.
This was a truly egalitarian memorial, too. Every class and kind of vehicle was represented, from utilitarian pickup to luxury sedan. But all were equal now. The stereo speakers were silent, the tinted glass pockmarked and crazed. And what use electric windows here?
Still, a few of the wrecks had managed to achieve immortality of a sort, their serviceable parts scavenged to prolong the lives of other newer, cars and trucks. Now only the picked bones of the donors remained.
Yet even in death some skeletons retained an odd alertness, poised as if ready to take their long-gone owners on one last ride:
For a while I wandered from wreck to wreck, getting no real sense of the graveyard’s true extent. Eventually, however, I found my way to a vantage point. Only then did I realize how much more there was to see…
…and how much had already disappeared into the soil. In time, in ten years or a hundred, nothing will remain above ground, and passersby will be left to wonder,
Where are we now?
But neither the trees, nor the grass, nor the songbirds will bother to answer. After all, they are part of larger story, and they have much longer memories.
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