As I drove down the last stretch and got close, I started thinking about how a story about an abandoned road might go. What was there to make of a mile or so stretch of pavement that once upon a time was called Washington Street?
I could track the whole thing, front to back. The sound as I got out of the car. The key. The seatbelt. The door opening to birds. That faint transition from inside to out. Machine to world. Town life to wild life.
How there’s a gate, makeshift and irregular like several gates fell together and no one could figure out what. Two white poles, red striped, 10 feet tall. Heavy crossbeams over half of it. Cut pipes and chain dangling across the other side. I’d put in the sound of the chain as I passed onto the road. By the sound of my footsteps, I’d show how the real road and the abandoned road went right together.
I learned initially about the abandoned road from Allen, who grew up in Keene. He says the people that walk the road don’t really want it to be known. To match that, Allen doesn’t want me to use his last name.
Allen: And I have friends who say they remember driving over it and I can remember as a boy driving that road with my father. I just think it’s great that they left it and didn’t totally close it off.
The river, always close, is soon the road’s shadow, running right beside it, about the same width, for the rest of the way. The river noise is like a static. No burbling music. Just a thrash of white noise that stretches out like a tablecloth beside the road.
Allen says that even though he tried to find out about the road, not much was clearly known or remembered.
Allen: But I couldn’t find out exactly when it was abandoned and exactly when they built the new highway, Route 9. So I went and talked to Alan Rumrill at the Historical Society and he said that he was quite sure it was in the early 70s.
The last cars to drive this road: Chevy Impala’s, Ford Galaxies, Plymouth Roadrunners, Nova’s, Fairmonts, Pintos, Coronets. The old late 60′s early 70′s cars with their bulky metal shells. Inside, radios playing the Rolling Stones, Ziggy Stardust, Neil Young’s Heart of Gold.
A warning somewhere in the story about the poison ivy everywhere. Allen, who’s a gardener and amateur botanist, lists off the other plants. Purple trillium. Jack in the pulpit. Red elderberry. Solomon’s seal. Rare things too like rose moss, blue stemmed goldenrod. The poisonous white baneberry, called doll’s eyes.
The area, Allen says, is famous for its garnets. Granite ledge rises up on one side, veined with feldspar. Inside the feldspar Allen says, tiny and perfect, blood red garnets
Allen: They’re peppered all through there. It’s as if somebody took a shot gun and shot them into the stone
En plain air is what a painter might do and how I decide to write this story with a pen and paper. Set their easel up if they were here and paint the road’s coal and purple elephant skin – the tree bark colors of the road. The too green leaves below a not enough blue sky loose with long peninsulas of smoke and white knots, and blimp-sized cumulus popcorn. The black yellow of the painted lines of the road beside a tea brown brook, the water rushing from glassy to snow white.
The road not at all apocalyptic. No old grocery carts or tumbleweeds. With the earth burrowing up through the tar, cracking it along into pieces. Both sides going under leaves and needles and the center split with an upward axe of grass.
En plein air I write, happy to remember the fancy French. I write down that I want to write the whole thing here at the end of the abandoned road but not say so. I sit where the road dies in the manner of ocean waves reaching up the sand with round arms, and write down what I remember of my plans, what to include, what not to forget.
To start with the sound of the car, the engine, the keys, the door, go into footsteps and river and falls – and end with the sound at the end of the road, if there was a sound that wasn’t me, and certainly not the sound of writing. That’s my plan anyway unless something in the abandoned road says otherwise, somehow insists that intention itself, secret and planned, be displayed side by side like the cars that once drove here might be as against the loss of the name of the road itself.
I have one of only 400 vinyl prints of the song “Sumatran Tiger” by Portugal The Man – the first song ever designed to go extinct unless it’s “saved” by uploading to the internet. The project began with the Smithsonian Zoo reaching out to ad agency DDB (the company that supposedly inspired Mad Men) and requesting a campaign that would raise awareness for the nearly extinct Sumatran Tiger. DDB came up with the idea of a “song that would go extinct” – asked the band Portugal The Man to write a song – and then found a record maker in New Zealand who were able to print on a degradable polycarbon. Only 400 tigers are left in the world – thus 400 copies of the record.
I have ripped the song and uploaded below and will upload to soundcloud and youtube, but my record player isn’t that good and I wanted to mail the record along to someone else who might be interested. If you have a record player and would like to participate in this Endangered Song project, please email me at sherwinsleeves at yahoo dot com and I’ll send you the record. If more than one person asks for it, I’ll have to figure out some way to fairly do it. So if you’re active on soundcloud or youtube, or if you like to make videos that go along with songs, then I’ll probably send to you.
Here’s the explainer video put out by DDB and the Smithsonian:
Here’s my rip of the song:
We live in boxes, work in boxes, drive on the rectangley ribbon of the road in box-like things that run on circles.
A series of bright boxes before bed – the TV screen, the book or kindle, the smart phone.
We sleep on rectangles, heads on rectangles.
It’s possible to eat square sandwiches on round plates on rectangular trays at the top of skyscrapers, the grandest quadrilaterals of the earth.
Money is another grand quadrilateral of the earth. Trillions of different colored soft rectangular bills stuffed into billions of pockets above the basement clang of coins. The painted dream of paper money. The filled hole of a penny.
Most everything we see or like is kept in a squarish frame. Paintings. Movies. Shows. Stories. Photographs. Football. Refrigerators, cereal boxes. Newspapers. Diaries, postcards. We especially love the window on our world that is the battery powered handheld rectangle.
Our natural vision sees wider than it does tall. Side to side more than up and down. A rectangle is a good harbor for such an eye. It crops away the unseeable and contains both the clear and the not.
Once, before the squares and rectangles came there was a tumbling jumble of everything. A kind of endless pile of things that fell or toppled as against the things that roamed or rose up. Nothing was topsy-turvy, but nothing was quite arranged. Draw a square in the sand with your finger and it is easier to focus on the sand enclosed. There’s less sand to see, but seeing all the sand is too much sand.
For years the prevalence of the geometry of squares increased until the rectangle became our most keen portal. Like newspapers everywhere, it was the space we kept our world in.
The envelope, the novel, the letter, the screen. The home, the mirror, the gravestone.
But it’s possible the future will belong to holograms and robots. Artificial intelligence and sprayed dimensional light.
Books may become single words that appear before us, one after the next, clean and centered, hitting our optic nerves with the precision of nails.
And with things like Google Glass and the blue sky development of holographic displays in phones, televisions, tables, walls, wherever – our rectangular window on the world might lose its familiar enclosure. We are getting the world ready to spring up again in an illuminated fabric.
In that way, the world might open up again. Instead of a photo of a beach on a small squared screen, we’ll have the beach remade before us in explorable miniature light forms. Here come in the waves and tide, there stretches out the beach and dunes. There could be boats and a city far off to visit with the urge of a dilating lens. Then, as long before, we’ll see the tumbling jumble of everything, an endless pile of things that fall or topple around the things that roam or rise up.
In that hologram of the beach with the boats and the city, we could draw a square in the sand made of light with a finger made of light. But it’s hard to say no to too much information. Why see less, when you can see all?
And maybe what’s being sensed is the imminence of too much sand. Beneath that the loss of rectangles. Beyond that the arrival of so much light. Within that perhaps, a world within a world, taking us closer to seeing what was there to begin with.