Story and Photos by Ryan Rock
Landmark Crew Boss

We see it in the distance and know it is along our transect—a house. A house and a few old buildings.  Easily seen from the road we regularly drive; visible from the house where we currently stay. Amber suggests we detour slightly to investigate. Emma and I agree.

As we approach, it looks like nothing more than a collection of dilapidated structures: a main house, a couple of outbuildings, a silo, the remnants of an old corral. Only the silo appears in decent shape.

Turning to the south, the wind at my back, I step over the remains of an old fence that once surrounded the plot. Suddenly, the place takes on an entirely new character. What seemed like a home in decay now seems like much more. It radiates a strange energy that allows me to envision the working ranch this once was. I can imagine the corral filled with cows, tools in the sheds and grain in the silo. 

Peering into the house gives me an eerie sensation. It’s a glimpse of the past. A look into someone’s life.  

I feel like an invader. Someone foreign and out of place. Different than the raccoon who’s left evidence of his passage all over the floor, the swallows whose nests are plastered on nearly every wall, or the coyote whose tracks we see outside, probably hunting the resident rodents. These opportunists have capitalized on the lack of human presence and replaced it with their own. 

Given the chance, the prairie too will once again claim this section of land. Bit by bit, parts of the outside world will continue to seep in until it is consumed and returned to what it once was. 

Walking away across a dike, the cold wind chilling my hands, thoughts fill my mind. What would it have been like to make a living out here? What would it take to start a family and raise children years ago in such an unforgiving landscape? I’ll never know.

I try to imagine a similar scenario taking place years from now at my childhood home in Maryland. Hikers viewing the skeleton of the house where I spent the majority of my life to this point. What clues of our existence would be left behind for them to discover? 

Emma directs us to the west, off of the dike and across an irrigation ditch, drawing my attention back to our surroundings. A group of three sharp-tailed grouse explode out of the brush, frantically flapping to evade us. Emma snaps a photo while Amber and I prepare to record the observation on the tablet.

I try to push the old house to the back of my mind and focus on the rest of our hike, but it keeps coming back to me. This place grabs ahold of you, sometimes in surprising ways. Who knows what tomorrow’s hike will hold.

Learn more this and other ASC projects on our website, the Field Notes blog, and by following us on FacebookTwitterInstagram and Google+.