Friday, November 19, 2010

Bodie, California: Beauty In Decay

"Men rush to California and Australia as if the true gold were to be found in that direction; but that is to go to the very opposite extreme to where it lies."~Henry David Thoreau

Human beings are by nature a curious and persistent lot. We are constantly seeking to improve ourselves through whatever means necessary. Take gold for example. Gold was the catalyst that created a huge influx of wealth and people into California in the 1800's. Bodie, California lies east of the Sierra Nevada, only 12 miles from the Nevada border. I had the chance to see this amazing town that lives in a state of "arrested decay" with my friend Jay this past August. 

Jay and I were in the midst of spending a week in Yosemite National Park, exploring its many wonders. We decided to leave the park and venture to Bodie for a day trip. A 3.5 hour drive northeast of Yosemite brought us to the dusty and rock-strewn road that breaks off from I-395. We then began a circuitous route around sandy mountains littered with dusty, dry bushes. It was HOT. August. The desert. Enough said. Yet we relished was such a far cry from the cool mists of Vernal Falls and Yosemite Falls in the heart of Yosemite Valley.

Big sky country. Taking a break along the bumpy, 
12 mile stretch of unmaintained road towards Bodie.

As we drove along this road we marvelled at the unrelentingly stark landscape around us. We could not imagine living out here, much less in the ferocious winter months. After what seemed like hours a bend in the road brought us to our prize: Bodie. The buildings scattered on the hillside seemed dwarfed by the sky and sheer scale of our surroundings. 

Bodie's notorious reputation precedes it. Known as a den of inequity and crime in its hay day, all that remains now are whispers and ghosts of its past. As an artist and someone fascinated by the remains of activity in quiet places, it was Xanadu. There were no residents to tell the tales, no miners and bankers, mothers and husbands to share their happinesses and sorrows. There was only what they left behind in the spaces they used to inhabit. Haunting stuff. 

 A small barn slowly accepting the inevitable..
This old bed frame, cast aside, symbolized lives lived and long gone.

Bodie has been designated as a National Historic Site and thus has a small crew that works there on a full-time basis. They take tours out around town and supply visitors with answers to their questions. With a detailed map of present and the footprints of past structures in hand, Jay and I meandered around the town for the afternoon. Here are some photos of what we found...

A chopping block. I found this rather eerie.
Wires like arms outstretched..

 Jim, a convivial guide who offered tours of the mine that is usually closed to visitors.

Relishing the unique climate and feel of such a special place. 
Ontario seemed very far away..

Bodie is a testament to the adage that change is the only constant. The buildings were hastily and poorly constructed when the town began to boom in the 1870's. Thus when winter set, in a lack of insulation contributed to a high mortality rate. Crime was a daily reality as well. The town bell would ring each time someone lost their life. It rang very frequently. One little girl famously wrote in her diary when she learned of her family's move to Bodie: Goodbye God. I'm moving to Bodie."

 The Swayze Hotel in the foreground. Note the beam propping it up.

This side trip to Bodie will always stand out in stark contrast to the verdant climes of Yosemite that we had come to know and love in the days leading up to this day. Bodie in particular is a reminder that life is always hurtling quickly forward. It takes no prisoners. A sign in one building in town had a plaque that showed Bodie in various phases of its existence. "Nothing Endures But Change" Hericlitus said, and this quote lies above the photos. I could have spent weeks photographing this place...the rugged countryside and threatening sky seemed constantly poised to descend and swallow it up. It was eerie. It was beautiful. It was. 

Crumbling remains of the bank in Bodie.

"Because things are the way they are, things will not stay the way they are."~Bertolt Brecht