Vacant lots near Group Health Overlake Center

Once upon a time there were two parcels of land.

In the beginning, they were entirely unaware that they were in fact parcels. While the land remained nameless and whole, they would never even have dreamed of separation. While glaciers sculpted the mountains and lakes, then melted into forgetfulness, the forest was born. Nestled on a high hill, host to towering fir trees and joyously twisting madrones, the parcels were indistinguishable from their surroundings. The years passed quickly.

Strip mall

When the land was named for a gay slave owner from Alabama, the parcels began to suspect.  When the waterline was lowered on the surrounding lakes, they grew nervous. When the clear-cutting began, it was a fait accompli. When property lines were hastily scrawled on a map, they knew the meaning of division. They would have to make it on their own.

Out of business

The first parcel was named 262505-9162. When the trees were removed, it was quickly covered with sticky black tar, which dried into a smooth impermeable cover. When it rained, water flowed downhill in all directions instead of sinking into the land as before. From that time onwards, the parcel would always be just a little bit thirsty.

Asphalt ocean

Eventually a few buildings arose on the first parcel, anthills rising out of desert. Words began to echo through the first parcel, gradually leaching through the asphalt into the ground. Trade. Commerce. Retail. Shopping. Money. Tax. Surplus. The words smelled like coffee grounds, potent and bitter and new. The parcel learned that it was real estate, and had value. This it found encouraging, and something of a remedy to the earlier millennia of useless unreality.

Taken to the cleaners

The first parcel gradually found itself enjoying the notion of commerce. It knew that what is created must be sustained, and what grows too quickly dies too quickly. But it allowed itself to smile briefly.

Before, it had been witness to the mere interplay of red squirrels and fir cones, now the hustle and bustle was on a different scale altogether. Furniture brought order to organic asymmetry. Burning wood shaped grain from far-away fields into something called a pizza. Laundry arrived dirty, and spun itself clean again. Liquidity facilitated exchange. The parcel felt like something important. A hub for the world.

Above all, it loved the endless flow of exotic goods from sun-kissed lands to the east. Or was it the west? The parcel wasn’t sure, but it didn’t mind not knowing. The energy of a thousand suns had marshaled itself into one marvelous hour of entertainment. Time slowed to watch.

Abandoned shopping cart

While the wheels of commerce spun frantically next door, a slower rhythm was unfolding in the second parcel. It was smaller than the first, and its name was 262505-9038. With a lesser number than its neighbor, it always felt a little inferior. When its tree cover was removed, it became not an asphalt ocean but a patch of grass. Shortened regularly, this was not a pasture for animals but for another kind of industry entirely.

Vacant lot

Over time strange plants from foreign places began to arrive. They were kept separate from the parcel in pots containing exotic soils. Translucent sheets were raised to trap the sun and shelter them from the wind. When thirsty, they drank from an elaborate system of pipes instead of drinking from the rain. Most spoke in peculiar dialects that the second parcel had to strain to understand. Some were utterly incomprehensible at first, although over time they made themselves heard.

For the most part, their thoughts were simple. They wanted to multiply.

Abandoned nursery building

The second parcel was naturally attuned to assist with this desire, but it did not have a lot of strength to spare. Old plants disappeared and new plants arrived at a rapid rate, making any such efforts somewhat wasteful. Over time, the same kinds of plants began to establish on the neighboring parcels, growing voraciously and looking down on the second parcel with a mixture of nostalgia and disdain. Mission accomplished.

The parcel found this bewildering, until slowly an understanding and a name came to it. It was a nursery, a place of nurture for colonists who had come to invade and change the land. And it could do nothing but watch.

Chain linkInexorability

In both parcels, rubber wheels traced paths along the first parcel, tickling to a halt along painted lines, angled in perfect alignment one after another; perhaps to face the sun, perhaps to avoid each other. Large trucks arrived in the mornings, bringing new things. Vehicles piled up on the roads, making their morning and evening pilgrimages.

Inside carbon skeletons, oxygen replaced hydrogen as usual, only faster. And gradually, the strangeness became normal.

Store closing

But then, suddenly, the activity died down. The asphalt aged and cracked, under the pressure of the ferocious rain and the timid sun. Wheels ceased to turn. Trading ebbed and ceased. Complexity diminished.

The feelings of decay crept firmly into the soil, first in bursts of morning energy, and then in sagging gusts of rotting wood and decrepit masonry. The parcels felt themselves growing weary, but they didn’t know why.

Time passed, and then they knew. Birth takes forever, death just an instant. End of story. Another would begin.

Falling apart

Of nature’s cycles this was surely the most complex and irrational, the dance of investment and decay, boom and bust, the so-called urban policy. What is built wrong cannot last. What is built right lasts as long as it is needed.

Across the street another story was in motion, one that for the moment the parcels would not join. A story that might evolve in many different directions, from destruction to revitalization. A story that you still might influence.

Derelict sunsetForgotten broom

The complete Flickr set.