What crosses your mind when you see an abandoned house? What emotions stir up? Do you get a sad vibe? Are you flooded with melancholy? Or does JUICY REAL ESTATE cross your mind instantly? Is an abandoned house a rotten tooth or a hidden gem?
My gut reaction is curiosity. I wonder about the lives lived there, the families grown, the kitchen parties and conversations had. Untold stories ooze from every one. Each weather beaten face speaks of a lost past when human beings cared for them. Each house is a film strip negative, archived now, forever unexposed.
I took these photos as I chugged up the deep Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia in search of remote surf (I found some!). Once I passed the outskirts of Sheet Harbour, ghost houses started to mushroom. Soon I was counting one dead house for every three live ones. They’re peppered up the coast, from Ecum Secum to Larry’s River. As I rolled further, I felt like I was traveling back in time.
At first I stopped in front of each one. Extremely slow bike travel helps hidden things appear. Speeding cars see nothing, really. I made sure to brake, soak in the scene, take a picture, gauge the creepiness factor. I itched to trespass but my city-brained paranoia took some time to fade. What if there were hidden cameras?
A ridiculous notion. There were none. No one standing guard. No trip wires or booby traps. Just a lonely house in need of a visitor. I started to wheel my bike into backyards and try doorknobs.
Most were locked, but one had a barn that called to me. It leaned and loafed like Walt Whitman, tilting gently in a field of buttercups. The cedar shake roof shingles were bone grey and peeling; rust red vertical slats gave the siding what interior designers call a ‘distressed’ look. With a hard tug, I pried a few back and I was in.
It was a time machine, whisking me back to 1924. Shafts of dusty sunlight lit up a treasure trove of farm tools: giant orchard ladders, coils of thick rope, hand plows, huge corkscrews, an oxen harness. I grabbed a scythe and held it aloft, grim reaper-style. I gave it a test slice. Whoosh.
If I were a fiction writer, here’s where I’d get jumped by a zombie or swarmed by a cloud of killer bees. Didn’t happen. But I did get freaked out by a moth.
You see, exploring abandoned dwellings is fun. I highly recommend it. Trespass is just a dirty word cooked up by people who pretend to own Nature. I left things as they were. I didn’t want to stir up any evil spirits. In each house I made a point to stand in the atrium, where I could feel the home’s heart once was, and close my eyes.
As the 21st century boils on, these spots might get snapped up by wealthy Americans and Germans and Ontarians looking for a safe haven close to the ocean. Or they might not. Either way, there’s no chance I’m paying for a campsite when I ride up the incredible Eastern Shore again.
– RC Shaw