I love photography more than almost anything else. There’s just something magical about picking up my camera and capturing a slice of life, clipping a little swatch from the fabric of time so that others can see forever what my eyes saw in that one fleeting moment. It’s saving a piece of the present for those who come after us. I love historical places for the same reason. They are galleries filled with the slices of life left by those who went before us. To stand in a place our ancestors stood or to touch an object that was once used by someone centuries ago has a way of grounding us. It connects today to yesterday and can momentarily transport us back to a time long past.
I’m blessed to live in an area rich with centuries of history. Much of it is preserved in museums and public displays, but some is hidden, tucked secretly away in little known corners of an ever changing landscape. Many of these treasures are quickly being absorbed into their surroundings, subject to forces of nature that will eventually erase all trace of them. Some stand boldly in the open, but others are nestled deep in forested areas that can be difficult to find and challenging to reach. They aren’t marked on any maps, known instead only by an oral history passed along for generations or the shared tales of those who have stumbled across their remains. Many are forgotten and lost to the years. Finding and photographing them is a mission for me.
Recently, a friend invited me to join a photography group he belongs to for a day exploring the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. Always up for any adventure involving my camera, I was happy to join him, as this is a favorite haunt of mine. A 70,000 acre wilderness playground, it was once home to a thriving farm community that has long since vanished. My grandmother had a home there when I was a child, and I spent countless hours fishing and hiking in the woods around the Gap with my dad. The area is rich with remnants of history I’ve always loved to discover.
We met on a paved road that winds along the Delaware River and is peppered with old barns and structures. The rest of the group went on to photograph the barns, but my friend and I decided to set out alone, in search of a few old vehicles we were told were hiding over a nearby ridge. The climb up was steep and with no sign of a path, not even from the herds of deer that populate the area. The undergrowth was a dense jungle of wild barberry and multiflora rose, covered in thorns that tore at us, determined to slow our climb. They almost seemed angry, as if wanting to stop us from disturbing the secrets they protected so fiercely.
We finally made our way to the top of the ridge, tired, sweating and looking a bit like we tangled with a few cranky alley cats. At first we didn’t see anything except more forest and undergrowth, but suddenly, there they were. Partially hidden by brush, they seemed to rise from the fern that carpets the forest floor. As we got closer we realized that these weren’t just junks someone had dumped in the woods. They were classic and beautiful, even in their state of decay. They sat forlorn and broken, as if weary of waiting for one more chance to drive off with the pre-war family that once owned them. A glance at our surroundings revealed a few low stone walls that spoke of the farm once perched on this ridge with a commanding view of the river, many years ago when the forest was still young. I could imagine them all piling into that once shiny car, dressed in their Sunday best to drive to the little church in town. I envisioned the farmer in his overalls loading the old pickup with feed for the livestock he would have raised to support his family.
We stayed and photographed what was left of these relics, mostly silent except for the clicking of our shutters. As we moved around to try and capture every angle, I couldn’t help but wonder what it was like for them up on that ridge, back in a time when life was hard, but family was abundant. As the rich, golden light of the afternoon dipped lower into the trees, we packed up our gear and began the descent back to our own cars. I looked over my shoulder to the top of the ridge as we made our way down and for just a moment, I felt as though I should wave goodbye to the ghosts that probably still call it home.
I plan to return and search for more of the history hidden in this spot. Perhaps I’ll find another treasure that will reveal a little more of the story of this long forgotten homestead and the family who built it. For now I’m content, knowing I’ve preserved a few more fragments of the past to share with those who will surely walk behind me