Walking this morning I found a thing that made me very happy. It was raining steadily but it was mild and calm and I was enjoying the last morning of April 2020. I cut through a large abandoned parking lot behind a brewpub and as I walked through I noticed an odd thing in the back corner of the lot. A line of overgrown shrubs, nothing unusual, except that someone had lined its border with decorative plastic border fencing. A closer look revealed that years before, that person had cared for this odd bit of landscape.
There was a large, crumbling planter barely visible beneath vines. The little fence was cracked and broken in places. In a week or two, when the unfolding leaves come out, this little evidence would be hidden.
The backsides of places fascinate me. I’d rather walk down an alley behind houses than the street they face. It tells you so much more about those who live there, what they value and what they don’t. Often, you see dreams rusting away, cars and boats, old motorcycles. These are the views you see from trains and they mesmerize me.
One of those train views was the inspiration for my first novel, The Rememberers. I caught a glimpse of an auto junkyard, long abandoned, with large trees growing out of engine compartments and rusty bodies sinking into the earth. It went by so fast that I questioned its existence and, in fact, I have ridden that train many times and never been able to glimpse it again. But it gave me an image for a story.
Another backside view gave me my first scene. I love seeing old sidewalks that seem to make no sense as passageways. Sneaking around freeways or disappearing into overgrown foliage. My narrator Ray walks down one of these paths and finds himself somewhere that can’t exist, a parallel place. It is still a place that lives clearly in me.
One hot summer afternoon I got off a train in Rhinecliff, a small town in the Hudson Valley. I had some time to kill while waiting for a client to pick me up, so I decided to explore a little. It was incredibly still and quiet, and the drowsy heat was a blanket muting everything. No sign of any people. The station, like many small stations, had no keeper.
This is Rip Van Winkle country, a place where you could fall asleep on a bench and awaken twenty years later. It felt very much like that on that drowsy afternoon. As though I’d found myself in the backside of time.
I had a thought this morning, as I looked at that abandoned landscaping project in the parking lot. Why not order some pruners and leather gloves and take up the work? The idea intrigues me. It serves no purpose at all other than to satisfy a whim. And god knows I have time! Why not cultivate my own strange place for someone else to stumble upon and wonder?