Burning Stories

My week of extensive walking finally brought me a negative aspect. After the second of my travels today, which filled my afternoon, I realized I had gotten a sunburn on my face. It’s a small price to pay for being outside and exploring the city, but it’s still far from pleasant. Looking up too much can be dangerous.

My grandfather on my father’s side of the family used to make bureaus using a rather odd frame. From what I am told, he would take old televisions, which once were made with wooden casings, clean them out, fashion backs from plywood and create drawers and the front pieces. I didn’t have the chance to get to know him well, but I think this one example of his resourcefulness made him an interesting man.

I love to collect stories. I think there’s something remarkably rewarding in knowing about the lives of others and examining how they relate to you. The events we choose to record, recount and share say a lot about us as individuals, I find. Even more telling is the manner in which we tell stories. I believe the best storytellers combine a sense of empathy with authenticity.

I am most touched by stories in a place where I discover I don’t know any of the stories. In cemeteries I’m always struck by a void in the stories I know. There are markers for passed lives about which I know nothing, and that highlights the value of stories for me and makes me feel even stronger about learning, recording and creating them. There’s no way to save all stories, but to preserve even some can teach us much about the human condition and ourselves through reflection.

In this vein, I’d like to quickly share with you the story of Centralia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. It was a town of 1,100 in 1962 when an underground coal fire began because of an exposed seam in a landfill was lit by a garbage fire. The fire spread through the seams and covered over 350 square miles under and around the town. Gases filled homes, the ground began to collapse, and the town became unfit to live in. Today only 40 people remain in the town, holding out despite the dangers.The fires beneath that town still burn over 40 years later, and smoke can be seen rising from great cracks in the roads, and various other sunken land. It’s a wasteland created because of mankind’s inability to protect our environment. You can find some photos of Centralia here.

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