Thursday, July 23, 2009


As a child, I was terrified of urban exploration. My parents instilled in me such a rigorous schema of moral beliefs that I felt no inclination to break the law, however absurd that law might be. Although I would crawl into abandoned gold mines up in the mountains with ease, walking into the dank dark depths as far as I was capable, anytime I encountered a "No Trespassing" sign, I would diligently decline from any sort of illicit exploration. When I was six my family moved to Virginia, about 20 miles from the heart of our nation's capital. Next door to us was a very old farmhouse, right in the path of suburban expansion. It was scheduled to be demolished and removed in order to make room for million dollar homes and ostentatiously planned community developments. I'm sure some family had lived at this farmhouse for generations, and probably lost some sort of legislative zoning battle forcing them to leave the residence for a small compensation from the city. It appeared that the family had just up and left, taking only their most valued possessions, as there were several relics abandoned on the property. My father and I, in a bout of adventurous behavior, decided to go explore the house, and get a glimpse of the history that was about to be destroyed so that our new neighbors would be able to have that 6 bedroom monstrosity, complete with his and hers walk-in closets.

When we approached the farmhouse, however, my six-year-old conscience was telling me "no". There were "No Trespassing" signs posted all over the vicinity, and a big earth mover parked in front. It was scheduled to be demolished the very next day, so what would be the harm of taking a quick peek? I absolutely refused. "But Dad!" I exclaimed, "the signs say no trespassing! We shouldn't be in here..." My father assured me it was ok, but I remained adamant, and adhering to my morals, I stood in the door frame for nearly half an hour while my father explored the house. He finally appeared again bearing gifts from the abandoned residence. The one I remember most vividly: a dusty one quart glass bottle from the Green Meadow Milk Company. I think he still has this on a mantle in his house somewhere. We walked back to our own house and went inside for some lemonade, but I'll never forget that big farmhouse and what could have been inside, waiting for me to explore.

You wouldn't think that a six-year-old would have the moral cognition capable of making decisions like that, but amazingly I held fast to my understandings of the law. Most children have very little inhibition, causing them to get into all kinds of trouble and making mistakes; mistakes which are invaluable in a necessary learning process. I never made that mistake, the mistake of harmless trespassing on a soon-to-be demolished property. It is something that has come back to me on several occasions. What could have been inside that house? What sort of things might I have found which could have clued me in to the history of the residents inside? My young imagination ran wild with the thought of it. Unfortunately I was never able to go back, I could only stand in the recently sodded yard of an affluent businessman, wondering if he knew what he had taken away from me.

But even though I didn't necessarily make a mistake in the eyes of the law, I did make a mistake by not going in and exploring that house; and I've learned from that mistake. These days, I've grown to appreciate the potential adventure of any situation, premeditated or not. I've grown to learn that some laws are meant to be bent, sometimes broken, and are in place only so that the adventurous have something to look forward to, something to keep their monotonous days going, a challenge to be met with a mischievous grin. There are adventurers in all of us, begging to be emancipated and allowed to explore the world. The beauty lies in the fact that you can never be certain of what the future holds. The uncertainty is intoxicating, forcing improvisation, wit, and a positive outlook. Not knowing what will happen in your immediate future is a fun prospect. It isn't for everyone, but for us true adventurers, we can appreciate the spontaneity of an unforeseen life. Everything new that we experience helps us grow as people, and exploring the unknown is a great way to experience something new.

Thanks for reading.

Some photos from a recent journey to explore an abandoned place, in an abandoned time:

1 comment:

Kath said...

You make some excellent points. I am still the way you used to be. To my way of thinking, if it says 'No Trespassing' - either written or implied- I follow that dictate.

Yes, I wonder what I'm missing. I always contemplate the huge 'what if'?

But to this day, if it says NO, I obey.