photo 3I was sure I had seen it in an episode of Ripley’s Believe it or Not. Jack Palance was the host, no? The episode featured the largest tree house. Not that I was intended to ever visit, not that I even remembered or that this monument occupied but a deep subconscious space brought up from storage as some smell of a distant childhood. Jack Palance was the only father figure I had at that time, oh so long ago.  When I think of him, that tacky show the kid me loved, I think of the dry smell of a shed, the one with the tar paper and the door that was hard to push open. The one next to the house of my female grandparent, now all gone.
photo 1Everything seems to be vanishing these days, and quickly too. It’s like you look at something, find this cool spot, and the next week your new spot has been bulldozed.  There are blogs aplenty that attempt to capture the ebbing not-so-distant past as it is replaced by scores of urinating masses breeding freely, cookie cutter mega stores and churches, chain casual dining centers (triple fountain of yum), and the geography of nowhere. Vanishing New York. Vanishing Ireland. The Lady Vanishes (that last one may be a film).
photo 1(1)One thing that is certainly being evacuated into the gray water treatment plant of history is the old Vacationland of America, the grand pappy/mammy/othery of our current state of being in our century old love affair with the car.
Gone are the Alligator farms, panther zoos, the Catskill Game Farm, Frontierland, and Carson City, that I grew up watching pass by as my parent drove on some Mission and that my greedily little kid self wished to visit. Even then it was the godderdamerubg of Roadside America. The plywood was needing paint, the billboard on Walter’s farm was missing a few boards, the panther was bizerk from too many years in a small pen and no positive stimulation. I had missed the Golden Age of driving (among other things too far in number to even have a cameo in the context of this space) and the space age of roadside crap-o-la.
photo 2So, unexpectedly, since we had no map, the road turned from huge leviathan trees with nothing between but this primal wilderness to reveal a huge tree with a sign and accompaniment of crap as one may see about the settlement of any group of poor people… “Featured in Ripley’s Believe it Or Not” the letters written in blood exclaimed. Or I imagined they were blood since in a way this was the impact upon certain lobes of the brain controlling fight or flight.
The tree was certainly alive but all else of manfolk was dead as generations of dust before us. Past fun is creepy. The bottles littering the yard. The fun park now rusting away. The wreckage of fun is always death and maggots. Whether house party or sea side vacation land, cabin community or lakeside resort, old former fun always takes on the pall of Leatherface, the gloom of The Hills Have Eyes, the Evil Dead breeding ground of nightmares and sadness. The world, we are told, requires balance. And that is the veil of tears of existence … Or the scary clown painting in your closet. Take your pick on philosophy. Or knowledge of Film Threat and Fangoria.
photo 3(1)Bethatasitmay, I turned the car around. And parked. In front of the wreckage of a gift shop that inexplicably had several statues of Asian men in the window. Lined up and silent. There was another car in the lot. Two men, appearing to be very familiar with each other, were also amazed at the spectacle of vanquished happy and “daddy can we stop here?!”  They appeared as frightened and joking as we were. They chatted about the strangeness of rotten old roadside America. I knew enough ASL from my college days to catch the drift of their giddy conversation but with my dead eyes and now limited PSE ability I dared not do more than smile and gesture vaguely least I interrupt their time together. My eyes said, “can you f  ucking believe this?” To which their reply was “I know, what is going on here,” but they spoke only with their eyes. They seemed in love. “I should have kept up with my studies,” my mind thought.
photo 5The car was idling in case we had to make a getaway. I crept closer to the treehouse. The tree in majesty had been but a twig when our Lord and Savior was born. The Bethlehem star grew and faded upon the spindly branches as it unfolded from the seed. And from that distant start light we were redeemed, but then fell into confusion and loss of Grace, the Dark Ages, we stumbled and fumbled to the Age of Contact, the Age of Discovery, the Industrial Age, wars and more wars, and then some asshole came West. They carved a Tree House, the worlds largest, and in the blink of that tree’s life with a ring at the center that breathed the same air as Jesus…. The epic treehouse was ruined and left to molder as was the many, many, many preternatural perhaps Fortean chain saw sculpted bears that gathered about it, minstrels in the sacred manger in the Garden of Gethsemane, the garden of good and evil.
photo 4(1)Down the steps I went to the door. Ignoring the NO Trespassing sign. Ignoring it all.  I could not see inside but there were… Things…. Inside. Crepuscular thing wavering between the worlds of the quick and the dead but indeed and accompanied by many exclamation points in my mind subjects alarming and installing fear.
We tread lightly.
The tree was indifferent. I slapped and killed some bloodsucking insect. I was, we were, the deaf couple, every visitor, my female grandparent that had come though this area in 1943 and had driven her car through the Chandelier tree as we had but moments ago… We were those insects to that tree. Blips along the timeline.
So. We returned. To our car. And drove off. On to the byways and highways of an ever flattening nation roasting and burning and frozen in time.

photo 4

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