This past weekend I spent some time in Gatineau Park, at the ruins of a 100 year-old carbide mill. They’re a bit of a hike into the woods; most of the way is pretty and peaceful forest and rock faces and partridge and lakes that we are fortunate to be able to experience in a lot of places in this part of the world. Then, rather suddenly, you go over a rise and you can see the mill.
I got a bit of a ‘wow’ moment as I always do when I arrive at ruined or abandoned buildings. Perhaps it’s just me, but I kind of suspect not – ruins always seem to attract visitors, and they appear in lots of our art. There’s something compelling about them. I thought I’d think about that a little today.
It isn’t immediately, rationally, clear why these particular ruins would have the effect that they do. They’re not from (of? <<terminology failure>>) a prison or asylum or castle or fort that you’d automatically expect to have strong emotional associations or fire up the ol’ imagination. They’re of (from?) a chemical mill. And yet, there’s still something there.
The building is pretty thoroughly ruined. Some trees grow up in what used to be the interior of the mill – ‘inside’ seeming to be not quite the right word, given the current state of things. It’s interesting (to me, anyway) how some of the meanings we assign to things begin to work a little awkwardly as they deteriorate. But it’s a reluctant process – we (or at least a lot of us) feel that what used to be a church is still holy or at least special ground. Partly collapsed buildings still have an ‘inside’. A rusted car with no wheels is still a ‘vehicle’. Anyway, tangent aside, there’s not a lot of this mill left. All there is is the shell of a building, empty windows (with some metal frames remaining), some concreted foundations and loose masonry among the tree roots and earth. And yet, there’s still that ‘wow’, for me. Something about the ruin that makes me want to hang out and explore.
Maybe the ruin speaks of human persistence; the traces of what people built and did surviving after they are long gone. I love history, so being able to feel connected to people and societies from long ago is always a joy for me. You can stand in an old building or a ruin and imagine what it was like when the place was alive and active. Material culture does have an impact that other kinds of study (or experience) don’t quite give you, and material culture you can walk around in may be especially good at that.
Alternatively, maybe the reason ruins are striking is that they remind us of the passage of time, that essentially everything we do is temporary and the mortality of human endeavour. One day it will all be gone. Ruins are that process in action, partially complete. The deterioration is sufficient that it’s undeniable, obvious, impactful.
There’s also something about the power of nature I guess; seeing trees grow up through what used to be a stone building, roots splitting the foundations and moss encroaching over it all is a vivid demonstration that even though we tend to put our faith in our technology and our control over the world around us, given the right circumstances, and enough time, that relationship can be flipped upside down. It’s also a reminder that even something abandoned and left to collapse may still be alive, just in a different way than it originally was.
I guess all of this is a lot to say that I like old buildings quite a bit and ruins tend to get my imagination gears rumbling away. Again, I doubt I’m in any way unique for that. Probably most creative people get affected by environment in positive and negative ways.
That’s what I’ve got for this week.
(I now have a photo for this entry, which does make it work ever so much better. Thank you to Rohit Saxena for the picture and for a good afternoon)
By way of an update, I’m in the final stages of editing The King in Darkness. Everything looks good for hitting the projected October release, and we’re already starting to plan some things around that. I’m just slightly excited. 😀