Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry
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Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Flown Coop


PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: In my last hours in Peter's Valley I headed south for the Delaware Water Gap. It was a slow turkey walk with lots of diversions. My intent was to drive back north on the west side of the Delaware River and then home. This was the last site I photographed, and I was already feeling rushed. My attention had been grabbed by one of the most unusual buildings I had seen, not this chicken coop, but a small drying shed. With nothing within it to dry, it had just gone on drying. Indeed, never before have I seen a building quite as shriveled and dessicated as this one was. The slats of the roof, spaced to allow air to circulate, hung like the parched hide of some long-dead animal sagging between the joists. In places they had rotted away and beneath was revealed some cartilaginous layer. Through the sagging mass of roof I could read the skeletal outline of the joists. However, it was the siding that was most remarkable. It had been made of vertical slats of lumber. Each slat was about 2 inches wide and ten or twelve feet long. They were attached at the base to the floor structure and at the top to the roof structure, and in the middle they were fastened to some sort of rail. As they dried, some of them warped, but as they were pinned in three spots they wriggled in all directions and sometimes sprung loose. It all looked as if a small breeze might send it flying apart. It was a slow-motion explosion, but it had outlasted most of the other buildings. I tried to photograph it, but I couldn't make anything of it.

I decided to take a gander at the hen house. It had a corrigated tin roof stained in shades of rust and grime. The roof was topped with a small vent pipe that rose from a rusty, sheetmetal base at a jaunty angle, and was capped with a pointed beanie. However, the light glared, and there was nothing to set with it. I moved in close, attracted by these textures. The nesting hay looked fresh, but it seems the chickens ducked out long ago.

The main house (As I recall it was something cozy in asbestos.) was solidly boarded against intruders coming to roost. It must have been a tiny subsistence farm that never provided subsistence. Although I came away with only a single usable image, I won't grouse.