Bring it on

"Think what a great world revolution will take place when there are millions of guys all over the world with rucksacks on their backs tramping around the back country…."- Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums

How can hiking Centralia make me nostalgic?

>> Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Thunderstorms on Sunday ruined my overnighter this weekend, but instead I got to trek around the ruins of Centralia, something I'd always wanted to see.

The disgusting smell of burning tires mixed with rotten eggs filled the air as we made our way down the road and into the town. At first I thought it was Aaron's car brakes, but later when we walked the mines, the scent was unforgettable. I imagined that it was like what so many miners smelled before their inevitable fates underground, the fate that the tiny canary predicts moments before a disaster.

But I didn't completely feel a forboding darkness about the place as we hiked the broken streets and coal packed walkways. It was more like a curiousity mixed with a childhood reminiscence of the abandoned mines behind my nanas home near the LCCC campus (which are now cleared with a fresh layer of grass trimmed and neatly prepared for homes or campus buildings).

Walking along the strip mines of Centralia, it wasn't the disgusting smell from the steamy sulphuric vapors that made me think of riding bikes, making forts, and shooting bebe guns, but seeing rows of survivor trees (such as the birch) and shrubs covering piles of chunked black rock, broken bottles and cans, and even some abandoned garbage. And while some might see this as something like the remains of some graffically horrific murder partially washed away by time, I just remember being a tomboy pre-teen and searching for lost treasure near my nana's house while collecting bottles and cans, lining them up and shooting bebes through them.

I also remember climbing birches, bending their trunks almost to the ground. And the most memorable was an enormous trunked and termite-eaten tree that my cousins and I would hang out near in deep in the center of the mined area. We took hammers, tarps, and 2X4s determined to make a fort that we could escape to in the summers when we tired of our NES or Sega Genesis games. Occasionally, I'd sneak away to that tree to read about Greek mythological figures or the fantasy world of Dragonlance characters.

Our 'romantic' walk also consisted of putting our hands near the vapor holes and feeling the heated rocks, while pondering the possibilities of travelling underground and seeing the vast expanse of fire, and wondered what anthropologists might conclude of our society hundreds of years after our passing.

Then to bring ourselves back into the current moment, we terrorized gypsy moth nests lopping large charred coal with burnt hues of red, unfortunately, neither of us destroyed a nest. As I looked at each rock, I remembered an archaeological dig I took part in for six weeks near the Don River in Russia back in '99 or 2000. We were bisecting a large mound in the steppe that had rocks similiarly charred. At the time, none of us could figure out how this formation that seemed like a huge chimney of some strange religious ceremony could have existed in the middle of absolutely nowhere. As I threw the last rock, narrowly missing the webbed nest, I imagined that it was possible for those Russian ancestors to be miners as well.

On the return walk, we saw crowds of birds bouncing across the air above and we discussed the possibility of the heat from the mines creating a summer-like appearance to the area even in winter. My mind played with the possibility of an oasis amongst the grime and garbage with greenery and animals living in an endless summer or spring, Much like this town, remaining timeless as the world around it changes seasons from summer to fall to winter and around again.


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