In 2006, I took this photo and named it “Nature always wins.”
Here’s how that truck looks now.
Nature is still winning.
About two hours east of Nashville, in Crossville, there’s a giant treehouse built by a minister who says God told him as long as he kept adding to the structure, he’d never run out of material. A few years ago the Fire Marshall ordered the structure to be closed to the public, as it did not meet fire codes. So now it sits abandoned.
I’m a sucker for rural places with bizarre backstories (like the Mindfield, for example), so when I saw this thing pop up in my Instagram feed as someone I follow visited it, I knew I had to go see for myself.
I went solo, which made for an interesting experience as I had no one there to crack jokes with to make me feel less creeped out. A family was leaving as I pulled up and I presumably had the place all to myself. There were times I doubted that, though, as the building swayed and creaked and made strange noises all around. Shuffling, knocking, scraping, sliding. I assume there are plenty of animals that call the treehouse home, and it occurred to me that if one of them was a crazed raccoon, I’d be in for a fight.
One of the stranger experiences of climbing in the treehouse was looking down and seeing the floor below through the widely spaced floor boards. Several times I felt my stomach jump up to my throat as I thought about how I was three, four, five floors up on wooden boards that were constructed by a man with no blueprints and just a calling from God to build, build, build.
The chapel is the most impressive room in the place. It’s got an interesting mix of solemnity and whimsy (there’s a basketball goal on the wall, opposite the pulpit) and it’s built in amphitheater style, with slats of pews rising on all sides, several floors high around where the preacher would stand at the hand-carved altar. There were photos, paintings and carvings still in place. There’s a makeshift skylight formed by light corrugated fiberglass. Visitors from over the years had carved and painted what I thought was remarkably stupid graffiti on every surface.
There’s a room on one of the upper floors full of carved figures that look like Native Americans and Jesus. They’re all sort of hanging out around the perimeter of the room, and the afternoon sun streams in through gaps in the wooden walls to illuminate their faces.
I climbed up the bell tower as far as the stairs would let me but stopped short of climbing up the ladder into the bell tower itself. I could see through the floorboards above some giant metal canisters that the internet tells me used to be strung up to clang like bells. There’s a bench in the bell tower and windows all around. The view is beautiful and serene, even though you can hear the hum of I-40 nearby.
I stepped so gingerly and deliberately through the whole house that the next day I was sore. I kept thinking I’d find a loose board and crash through the tree, but the place did feel sturdy, I have to say. I can’t imagine a whole gaggle of kids galloping around, playing basketball in the chapel up in the tree and their parents not having cardiac events, but the minister had faith that his treehouse could sustain his flock so who am I to argue?
Once upon a time, Flickr would let you embed slideshows, but it looks like the new Flickr (which, OK, is a few years old now) doesn’t allow it. So if you want to see more, and I hope you do, click here to view the album and click the slideshow icon in the top right corner.
Or better yet, just go see it for yourself. It’s a fantastic bit of folk art and truly an architectural masterpiece.
I don’t know why, but I have always found this thing fascinating.
I had a little time to spare on the trip back to Memphis today, so I took a detour up to Brownsville to check out Billy Tripp’s Mindfield, which I’d heard about from FearlessVK first, and then subsequently from other people saying how cool it was.
And indeed, it’s a pretty bizarre, quirky, amazing thing to behold. It’s a little like looking at a three-dimensional version of one of those surreal drawings in the Scrutineyes board game. There are so many visual references that hide at first but surface the longer you look. Granted, they are all either pretty general or pretty random-seeming to the average viewer, but to the artist, I’m sure everything in the sculpture means something. I like to imagine that every shape and item dangling from those steel beams is a trinket plucked from Tripp’s memories and dreams.
I was lucky enough to reach into the comment box and find a copy of Tripp’s self-published book for the taking. I’ve heard that it’s a tough read because it’s so huge and pretty rambly because it’s written in a stream-of-consciousness style. But I plan to give it a try. If it’s anything like the sculpture itself, if you just give it some time, the randomness of it recedes and what’s important starts to stand out pretty clearly.
Full photo set here.
There’s this abandoned homestead on Highway 100 between the 64 junction and Chickasaw that I pass every time I drive to my parents’ house in Saltillo. Every time I speed by, my mind goes into overdrive thinking about what used to be there. What kind of house, what kind of people, what kind of stories. Where did the house go? Where are the people now? All that’s left are these two little brick walls framing the entranceway. The 911 numbers are intact. There are even light bulbs in the fixtures. It’s all been sitting there like this for the four years I’ve been driving from Saltillo to Memphis. I’ve invented a hundred stories to explain what’s happened to the house that used to be there. All of them are sad.
I wonder sometimes about the remnants we leave behind. The residue. The stories we start and stop and abandon and pick up and move elsewhere. The things that are destroyed by nature and fate. The things that evaporate. The things we think don’t leave a trace but that, in fact, drip stains everywhere. Stains other people have to step over and around. Stains other people whisper in hushed tones about. Stains other people use as excuses to invent stories.
I worry that some day the world will become saturated. I wonder how it is that it hasn’t yet.
And I marvel.