03 December 2009

The Letter From Green Mountain - Part II

03 December 09

When they asked me to come teach for a week, I suggested that, apart from the classes and lectures, we should take a photographic field trip. Green Mountain College is adjacent to the Adirondacks, and not far from several sites I have documented from the air: Tahawus - an old lead mine, most of which is owned by OSI; Republic Steel - an abandoned mill; IP Paper Mill in Ticonderoga. LightHawk had flown me over these locations last year, which led to a great story in the Adirondack Explorer; still I have always wanted to see these sites from the ground. The weather did not look promising, so we postponed our trip from Saturday to Sunday, and, of course Saturday I came down with the flu. But, there was no way I was going to miss this trip, so I climbed in the van at 5 AM on Sunday, wheezing and whining along the way, which the students all took with magnanimous aplomb. Tahawus, our first site, is in the middle of the high peaks, and involved quite a bit of map study, GPS shaking, and wrong turns. We finally ended up at the actual mines, where a somewhat churlish fellow in old overalls with a can of spray paint in hand informed us that this was not part of the OSI parcel, and no trespassing was allowed. He did not even succomb to the southern accent, so we turned around and navigated to the OSI holdings, which included the old town. There are some really interesting dilapidated buildings, and the students were all over it, but the fever was taking over and I passed out in the van. After a few hours and a bit of meandering, we moved to what I think was an old forge, a large stone oven/chimney with some other graphically interesting decaying metal. I’m always fascinated by these relics and curious about the story behind them.

Sadly, though it was the middle of the day, a lone bat circled the cairn endlessly. The students had all moved on and a couple arrived, the female evincing unease at the despondent presence of the winged mammal. I just wanted to cry thinking there could be no more perfect symbol for a world out of balance and wobbling, like the bat’s erratic flight, toward disaster.

At this point, students with obligations had to motivate for a return to the school while the rest of us proceeded on to Republic Steel, our next destination. Located in Port Henry, this defunct mill fascinated me from the air with its Victorian factory and rusted conveyors climbing dirty white mountains of waste slag. Alas, my fever was rising, so my energy for scrabbling up the mountains, which had a texture like fine sand, was minimal. Ruins of industrial sites, and the progress of the organic world to resorb them intrigue me. Our orientation of profit over planet generates many of them, relics of fashion or depleted resources. Some are highly toxic, some picturesque, others just an eyesore. This one was spectacular, a memento of an industrial age in the USA that we have shipped offshore, thanks to globalization. No longer will the piles of slag sully our shores and contaminate our workers: there are other lands out of sight with resources to burn, workers to carcinate, water to pollute. The day was late, and the clouds that had momentarily parted for a respite had come down so they engulfed the tops of the slag heaps. Time to race back to the school before the cafeteria closed…

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