If South Park were the deep African wilderness, then South Orchard Street would be its heart of darkness.
We reach this unlikely intersection by following 2nd Ave until its bitter end at the Duwamish shoreline. Nearby, the highway 509 that brought us here traverses what was once a wetland. Acres of pavement and fill proudly announce the reclamation, utilization and civilization of land from wilderness.
We fly on asphalt friction until gravel grinds and rainwater splashes. Unpaved roads and pothole swarms are no obstacle to our momentum. Containers smile and point the way. Abandoned cars gesture caution to temper our exuberance.
South Orchard Street begins here and ends a few hundred feet down the road. No more is needed.
The heart of darkness is a vacant lot across from a blackberry thicket. Behind the thicket, a riparian inlet where salmon spawned before the world began.
The vacant lot is river mud softened by rain and scored with large-tread tire tracks. A barrel pyramid looms in the distance. Cement blocks imply potential architecture as yet unborn. This place is not yet what it will become.
The rusted container signals its mysterious command to trespassers. The abandoned lunar probe sits forever awaiting rescue. The earth wonders why nothing will grow.
Beside the alien container ten thousand cannons lie silent, a machine gun nest of retired metal. These are the pipes that carried the flow, the links that connected the graph, the launch tubes that fired the torpedoes that won the forgotten war. Here retired they must rust.
The barrel pyramid is formidable archeology, more colorful than Cheops and more useful than Chichen Itza. But its moment too has come and gone.
This is the eastern side of the Industrial Container Services site, where the firm’s most battle-scarred and least attractive barrels are stacked. Veterans of toxic waste spills meet containers used at nuclear accidents. They are stained beyond repair, rusted beyond hope. And yet still beautiful.
An engine’s roar returns our attention to South Orchard Street. A pickup truck laden with debris appears, and pauses at the sight of us. In this no-man’s land, no mission could possibly be legal.
A nervous energy fills every opening. Snipers take aim. The innocent hide behind containers. Hammers cock behind trembling fingers. The pickup truck advances, its cargo carefully balanced by slender ropes. The air is dense, unbreathable. A decision is being made.
Then the truck turns around and departs. Mission not accomplished. Perhaps a more legitimate destination awaits, or another moment when the tourists have gone.
The snipers relax. Lungs refill. Oxygen tastes strangely sweet. But South Orchard Street remains. Beside the river, debris was dumped yesterday and debris will be dumped tomorrow.
No place becomes worthless on its own. No place becomes worthless overnight. Perhaps no place is ever worthless at all, except to the unworthy. But day after day, year after year, neglect accumulates into scar tissue upon the landscape. The unwanted becomes unwelcoming.
And eventually, it is no longer the debris that does not belong; it is us.
The complete Flickr set.