I had a few hours to kill on a foggy, bleak Saturday morning.
Early winter is tough in Northern Michigan. We haven’t had much snow fall since the first round of lake-effect a few weeks ago, yet we’ve only been blessed with a few days of sunshine. The world is white and grey, with little natural color to brighten the landscape. With the temperatures hovering between 30 and 35º, the snow is melting. Melting snow is ugly, dirty snow.
The bleak color palate affects you. Northern Michigan is still one of the nation’s most beautiful locales, don’t get me wrong. But the winter doldrums can be tough to escape.
One of the ways that I fight off the blahs is by exploring. As a former professional historian, I have a deep appreciation for old. Even as a kid, I was drawn to the abandoned and decayed. There are stories to be told in the forgotten, even if we can’t hear them.
I decided to explore the side roads east of Petoskey, searching for something worthwhile to photograph and explore. I first came across a little cabin I had photographed once before. Sitting just off the road, it is not much larger than a shed. It’s plank siding is failing.The window is shattered. the door no longer fits its frame. I snapped a few photographs, playing with different angles.
Next I stopped to take pictures of towering pines. I actually got a bit dizzy as I stared up into the canopy. As I walked deeper into the forest, I noticed a small building in the distance.
Once out of the forest, I stumbled upon an abandoned farmstead. Two buildings remained standing, but were nothing more than shells. The lower level of a barn was just around the bend. I was enamored with this place, and spent hours snapping photographs and exploring. The old home was picked clean. Nothing but a rotted couch and broom remained. Still I found the place a treasure, the cedar siding aged gold.
Inside the small carriage barn was a boat, last licensed in 1983. Hanging from the ceiling was an ancient pea-coat. The seems were bursting from age and someone had stuffed the sleeves with straw. Window panes, sawhorses, and the remnants of a barrel littered the floor. The building was well sealed against the elements, even with no glass in the windows. It was dark, and I found it difficult to get a good shot.
There are hundreds of abandoned farms, homes, barns, and cabins in Northern Michigan. These places are ghosts of the past, haunting reminders to how we once lived.
Below is one of my favorite photographs that I have ever taken. When I went into the cabin and started taking shots, I realized quickly that the space was too small to capture any compelling photographs. As I was leaving, I made a decision to set down my camera and take a picture from the floor. The garbage on the floor is mostly animal droppings. Let me tell you, this place STUNK. The closer I got to the floor, the more the stench invaded my nostrils. I quickly focused the camera and adjusted the settings. Once the photo was taken, I rushed from the cabin to suck in some fresh air.
I am very proud of this image. The unused broom. The broken couch. The lines on the floor. The trash and droppings. The wood on the walls. The wonderful colorful palate. Abandoned. Forgotten. Broken. There is a story to this photograph that I have yet to uncover.