one morning about two and a half weeks after its opening day, I went down to the woods to visit the ol fort with the specific intention of taking a photograph of the memorial fort sign for my mother (who had been asking me for a picture of it since she visited for the memorial...in that momly more than once kind of way. hi mom). so, I wanted to make good on that request. when I was getting close to the fort, I noticed a branch that I had left along the path as a marker had been broken into pieces and thrown towards the woods. i experienced a mild twist of the stomach, feeling the askewed foreshadow of potential fort harm. in the weeks since the gathering, I had been facing this feeling a bit, mostly in positive ways, accepting the inevitable letting go and sharing of this very personal place....I had been noticing its changes as more visitors happened upon it, mostly gentle ones, like branch-building additions, or wine bottles with candles, though someone did steal a spool of rope that i left there, and someone did some "scratchiti" of a heart with a very robust penis going through it on my mirror....all in all, I was appreciating that this place could be a potential destination for a retreat seaker.
as i walked in the grove, the first thing i noticed was a small gathering of cows coming from the central circle that I had filled with the cut grass of the path. working in the grove, my friend daren and i would find some petrified cow patties and other signs of cow presence past, so i knew that they might some day return...and I would joke that this huge circle of grass that I had carefully cut and mounded as a sitting place—about 15 brimming garbage bags full—would make for a perfect cow food bowl. so, it was pretty wild to see this joke become life, and sure enough, they were chowing down hard on that grassy circle. here's a picture of them looking at me as they were leaving, minutes after I caught them (kind of the look bullies in the cafeteria give you when you come back from the bathroom and you realize they have just eaten your hostess cupcakes while you were gone. kind of like: WHAT.)
anyway, i was so distracted and amused by this happening that it took me a second before i looked up and locked in with a dangling pair of ropes...dangling in the place where a swing once had been. i then looked all around and realized that every swing was cut down, and left behind were these eerie pairs of cut rope.
this is what the swings used to be like.
my slow survey of the area revealed to me a total thoroughness of swing removal (even the one far swing way down by daren's hole), as well as a complete removal of all non-branch materials....the extra bits of rope, all extra boards, my rake, all 20 stakes i left out there, a small collection of tools, the rope that my friend Lydia had made and so graciously offered to the project, the vintage pulleys that my friend Lucas had so kindly and cleverly installed in the grove for daniela's tape recorder, and the sign.
those were some heavy bummin moments, sitting there. being confronted and perhaps haulted by the park rangers was a situation i had conceived of from the start, knowing that I was taking on a project without permission, but it was hard to shake the sense of violation. it certainly dug at the feeling of loss that had been a central theme in needing to take this project on in the first place.
but then this man walked into the grove with his dog. he's someone i had met once before, but only after a period of him being a source of mystery to me....the one sign of anyone besides myself or a friend ever coming into the fort grove before the gathering was a small formation of pebbles, shaped as a heart in a cleared space at the foot of a tree. it showed up one day, and then after a few weeks of gently wearing and covering in some fallen leaves, it cleared and reformed. when my mom came to visit and help build the floor we ran into this man, who stopped us when he noticed us carrying a spool of rope and a ladder and asked if we had been building the structure way in the woods. it was he who had found the fort with his dog and placed that heart of rocks as an offering. anyway, he was a pleasant beacon coming through the woods as i was a bit down in the dumps...we spoke about confronting loss, and about the natural course, and about what is beautiful about the quality of fading. he reminded me of some important stuff. he continued on his way, and i felt considerably lighter, and a bit more ready to see this as part of the course. and, i was bolstered by the fact that, though i loved the swings, the rangers had not touched the fort structure itself. a peaceful gesture i thought. i also reminded myself of how i had gotten to enjoy the swings with my friends Nat and Terri just 5 days prior, which was a very positive memory to be left with....
here are some photos that terri took on that fine friend day
before: nat is happy on a tire swing.anyway, i was beginning at my coming of terms. but, i did have the feeling that i wanted to get that sign back! and i kind of needed to know for sure if it was the park rangers who did this or not. i figured it had to be just based on how thorough the job of cleaning and removal was, but i needed to play detective a bit. i decided to go the park office, thinking i'd approach them with the mild excuse of looking for a friend's lost cellphone, and see if i couldn't snoop around and find some evidence of fort stuffs. when i got to their office, the door was locked, there seemed to be no one around, but the gate to around back was unlocked and open. around back was the fenced in area (barbed wire), where they kept their park vehicles, their personal vehicles, their tool shed, and the dumpster. i did a little shuffle in and out, building some nerve, and then just b-lined it for the dumpster which was in the back corner by their personal cars. i jumped up to look in and instantly saw some pieces of rope and swing seats mixed in with all the park garbage. feeling thoroughly sketchy, especially knowing the frequency of car break ins and how bad it would look snooping around by their cars, i hot tailed it out of there. i did some pacing and some heart racing trying to decide what to do next. go back in and grab everything i could? come back later at night and try and hop the fence? i didn't know what i'd do with all this stuff, or if i even wanted it, it was all just a very emotional response.
after: nat leaves california and goes back to indianna because there is no tire swing.
after: nat leaves california and goes back to indianna because there is no tire swing.
what i did was go around the outside of the fence, through the woods, and try to get a more secure look into the dumpster. i most hoped to find lydia's rope, lucas's pulleys, and my sign. i got to the fence from the other side, and climbed up a bit so i could look down on the dumpster. i saw more rope and seats and other materials, and i saw some of lydia's rope, but it was pretty drenched in garbage juice. and then i saw the wood board that was what i painted the sign on, towards the back, relatively un-garbaged, and accessable. again, i had to decide whether i wanted to risk the sketchiness of going back in, knowing that the rangers were probably on a lunch break and coming back any minute, or if i should come back at night and figure out a way to climb over the fence (...it's funny that at that moment it seemed potentially less sketchy to essentially break into a city official's office at night...). anyway, i had to take that picture for my mom, so i just mustered my guts, and went back around, through the gate again, darted to the dumpster, hopped up and in one motion pulled out the sign, threw it high over the fence into the woods, pulled on a few loose ropes hoping and hoping that they might lead to a pulley, and then having no luck in those few wild seconds, hopped back down and power walked out of there. i thought i heard a person in the office so i hid by a family at a picnic bench for a few minutes. then, feeling the clearness of the coast, i went through the woods, found the sign, and walked it out, past the park office, and drove it home.
here's your picture mom:
that little adventure happened about a month ago at this point, and i've been back to visit the fort a number of times since. it's still alive and well and growing and changing. i appreciate the park rangers doing their job while also letting this structure keep its home. i hope people can continue to go and build and hang there for, like, ever.
*one thing of note relating to the natural course of things....i think the munching of the grass by the cows helped the grass to drop it's seed, and that, combined with the rain we've had, has led to a beautiful thing.... the circle that used to be dry cut grass in the middle of the woods, is now sprouting new bright green baby grass. it's a good reminder.*