For a moment, as I make my way down South Street, I have to marvel at the six foot tall chain link fence with white slats that follows the entire length of the road. Barbed wire lines the top of the fence to persuade anyone from trying to climb it, not that anyone would, as there’s nothing inside except an abandoned industrial complex. A relic of the old ways once stood behind this fence, until the Ancients tore it down. Ashland Chemical. Their ruins stood behind the barbed wire, chain link, white slats, until they renovated and left us behind. Now, we’re left with just a fence, just some cracked pavement and iron-wrought tubs built into the ground. The concrete remains, but has been warped and broken by years of neglect.
If you walk down the road to the point where the fence ends, looking back, you’ll notice the delicate breeze carrying a noise, like a delicate hum reverberating against the chains. If you stare for long enough, you’ll see the fence moving ever so slightly, never to break, but stretching out. You think, if only for a second, that perhaps it will break. You think, let it break and let whatever bile that’s hiding inside there be set free. You think of tribal elders performing purification rituals to cleanse the land. Cars pass you by, beeping, because you’re the asshole on the side of the narrow road who doesn’t seem to be paying attention. In truth, it feels like you’re the only one paying attention. You feel a pulse in your heart that is relative to the beat. It’s an ancestral fear, akin to when a child’s afraid of the dark. The wind whirls passed you, riding along the fence to create the hum. The fence shakes, never to break, but to breathe. It’s breathing in the air and breathing something out. The tribal elders want to purify the land, because ancient spirits have grown angry. I picture lungs polluted with tar and nicotine, breathing in smoke for generations. The smoker felt joy for those few moments; he became addicted to feeling this way. Now, we’re left with the rotted lung that for some reason continues to breathe.
My first thought is of Chernobyl… I don’t know why. I imagine an entire town abandoned
because of the most devastating disaster of its time. I wonder why I’m not allowed back there and what they might be hiding. You can see from above that there’s nothing left to the site, but still there’s something. I couldn’t go inside and plant trees. I wonder if I’d come back with webbed feet! I wonder if I plant a bunch of trees how many would grow. I imagine one massive tree that managed to bulk up on chemical waste and learned to thrive. I imagine it rising high above us, above the chain link fence with white slats. Towering over us, the tree brings forth life. Birds flock to the tree, finding new homes within its gnarled bark and branches. Bugs flutter along to chew on the leaves, some glowing from either radiation or something natural that makes them essential to our ecosystem. They’ll chew through leaves and pull forth seeds and the breeze will take them away. They’ll float onward, throughout the town, taking root to grow something more. What will come of us? I wonder if the fallout will ever be clear enough for us to build some kind of park. I imagine, if only for this moment, children playing under the great and wonderful tree. The trains goes by in the background, as it does throughout the town. So does the tree now, as its seed has made its way to our greatest recesses. I imagine tables set into the concrete of the former site of ‘Ashland Chemical’. Massive tankers of God knows what used to sit in the same place as the tree. People gather around the tree of life, instead of an empty landfill of chemicals rotting into the center of our city.
It’s at least an attempt to make things better. Instead, at this moment, there’s so much noise. Most people probably wouldn’t bring their children here to play. Most people look at the ruins of this chemical compound and don’t even know it’s past, so probably couldn’t perceive its future. It’s ruins. It’s a relic of the past that stands, because either we don’t know what to do with it or we don’t care. It’s a perception long since shared by many in the city and all around the world. We carry our pasts into the future, with monuments dedicated to our ancestors; things they could use, but to us, they serve no purpose. We keep them around as a comfort of a glorious time. A few still believe there’s something salvagable, as if the company will come back and the jobs will return. We hope and it keeps us in Limbo. We want something better to leave future generations. No matter how hard you hope, these ruins will do us no good.
I pass along the chain link fence with white slats, stretching down the length of the road. When it ends, you can see inside the complex. Life grows between the cracks, seeping up from the busted concrete, overflowing between shattered remains of pavement. Best wishes to the future site of the ‘Blessed Tree of Life’. A creek flows between the ruins and the railroad, which is just beyond the site. I wonder what chemicals have leaked out and are poisoning the world. Fallout. Chernobyl. It happens in places far away. We don’t have webbed feet, but still, we have something. Or maybe we have nothing.