From my apartment, I descend onto the side street I live on. It is a dirt road, often filled with puddles from yesterday's rainstorm. The guard salutes me. So many guards, because there are so many people, and they need some way to earn their living. There are so many, there seem to be guards for the guards. But this one, unlike most, actually has a uniform. Crisp and blue, police-like. Always smiling and kind.
Five story buildings loom overhead, in various states of dilapidation. One can actually hear birds chirping, and with the soft wet dirt underneath, it all lends itself to a florestral sensation, despite the lack of greenery. But this street is deceiving in its peacefulness- it is a dead-end road, so only residents come down it, many of whom pass the day in the street, just sitting and watching, as birds on a telephone line.
100 yards to go, and I'm on the main street, one of the principle arteries connecting Gulshan, the embassies, and Banani. I wish I didn't have to use it. Because as soon as the road changes from dirt to pot-holed concrete, the obstacle course begins.
Hundreds of people- street urchins, businessmen, old beggars, students, shopkeepers, street vendors, guards, police- crowd the sidewalk, the sidewalk that ends and begins abruptly and that, if I'm not careful, could easily lead me to step (or fall) into the open stormwater channels that stink of rot and feces. Some walk, some stop, some haggle for a handout, some crouch down to relieve themselves in the stormwater drains, adding to the trash and muck already filling them. As I weave around the people, sometimes passing into the road, I duck to avoid the tangle of telecom cables that droop over the sides of the street. Hundreds of them, one for each person on the street, it seems. Swarms of rickshaw drivers and beggars buzz around, each hoping for a bit of money.
Trees sprout miraculously out of the sidewalk, the paving having been done meticulously around them, the bricks laid right up against the tree trunk. The trees here must feel strangled, but the green is welcome in a city of neutered colors: grays and browns and tans.
I walk past a tea walla. A small crowd is gathered around the rusty cart, drinking tea and smoking, as the walla deftly and expertly mixes his elixir of sugar, condensed milk, and tea, all for ten cents. Plastic bags packed with cheap pastries hang from the roof of the stall or sit in plastic bins on the counter space, and crushed cigarettes and plastic wrappers litter the ground around the tea walla like a Persian carpet, attesting to his success.
I cross a road, immersing myself in the impossibly loud traffic, each vehicle honking in unison, rickshaws adding to the cacophony with their bicycle bells, motorcycles growling past menacingly. The cars, jockeying for position, ignore my presence until the last millisecond. It is a harrowing game of chicken that often leaves me leaping out of the way of an impatient driver.
Safely crossed to the other side, I continue down the side of the street, which feels more alive than dead. Indeed, when entering Dhaka, one has the impression of entering the belly of the whale. Nowhere else will you find every square foot of the street so efficiently used, and not just to get around. There are all the street vendors: the tea wallas, of course, and food stalls (or even bowls of food set on a stool): puffed rice, boiled eggs, fujka, spicy diced vegetables with egg, pastries of all sorts, and even cooks making biryani rice in the street; there are the cigarette stalls and the stands where you can recharge your phone, there are shoe shiners and garment sellers, the ubiquitous beggars, the people-watchers, the smokers, the under-employed (those whose job consists of sitting around all day long), the drivers waiting for their employer, the rickshaw drivers on break, the snappily-dressed office workers returning from lunch. It is an electron cloud, cracking with energy and moving too quickly and chaotically to pinpoint with any accuracy.
Slightly out of breath with it all, I hurry to my destination, one more cell in the organism that is the street of Dhaka.
Knowledge of Place as a Metaphor for Proficiency in Learning
About a week ago, as I navigated through Norman on my way to an event, I realized that I could move back to Norman after 5 or even 10 years of being away, and I would still be able to get around pretty decently. I might forget some of the smaller roads and stores, but I'd have the structure of the city in my mind.
I'd still remember the major highways, arteries, intersections and landmarks, as well as how all of these components relate to one another to form the skeleton of what we call Norman, Oklahoma. The soccer fields off of Robinson, Highway 9 and 77, Interstate 35, Lake Thunderbird, Lindsay and Flood. I can see them all in my mind's eye, and when I want to get around Norman, I refer to this mental map. This is especially when I'm going somewhere I haven't been to often- frequent haunts wear grooves in our mind and soon we simply show up, having forgotten the act of actually getting there.
By breaking down this example further we can draw some interesting conclusions.
On the other hand, there are plenty of skills and fields that I remember very little of. Like my physics education at OU, or how to play a harmonica. Perhaps, like with the harmonica, I didn't stick with it long enough to build the internal model. Or, like with physics, I struggled to find a meaningful structure and order in the concepts I was learning.
Now the question I'm asking myself is, how can I reduce a new field, skill, or concept to its highest level structure to facilitate a lasting memory and knowledge of it, such that I can return to it years later and still feel like I "know" it? It's like reaching the point where you speak a foreign language well enough that you no longer need your native tongue. Your knowledge and fluency with the language self-perpetuates itself, you can use a mono-lingual dictionary, and even if you came back to the language 2 or 3 years later you'd probably pick it back up relatively quickly. I know reaching this level requires conscious effort, as I wrote in the third bullet point, but if we're learning and leading lives of constant learning and growth then we may as well learn and grow well.
Besides, who are we without our memory? My 5 years in Norman, Oklahoma are enriched by being able to place the motes of experiences, people, and places in the greater geographical weave of the city and the state.
Dillon Dakota Carroll
1. The Cake-Colored, Crumbling Church
This fading, pastel-colored church just outside Lexington caught my eye because of its decadent beauty. The light, almost cake-like green and pink stand out as wonderfully refreshing to the eyes under the hot Oklahoma sun. It is the visual equivalent of drinking a cool glass of water. I don't think I've seen a building quite like it. I took a quick look around it, and quickly decide that it is certainly abandoned. All the doors and windows are boarded off and locked. I wonder what happened, that would make a congregation abandon such a unique house of worship. I'd like to return to this building, before it meets whatever final fate awaits it- renovation, demolition, or a slow, discouraging collapse into rubble and ruin.
2. The Impulsive Excursion on the Explorer
This is complementary to the story of my maiden voyage on the $25 inflatable raft that I wrote about here. Take a look for some context. I'll still be here, just for you, when you get back.
After securing my Explorer raft on the not-quite-defunct boat ramp, I followed the trail through the woods and to its conclusion. I was rewarded spectacularly.
3. Meditative Meanderings on a Melancholy Marina
On lake Eufala, in Arrowhead State Park, there sits the derelict Area 51 Marina Bar & Restaurant. Funny enough, I was directed there by the park volunteer staffing the visitor center. The place was quite obviously abandoned, and had been so for some time, but somehow the park volunteers don't know that.
I was really looking forward to a cold beer, but my disappointment was offset by having this quiet, eerie corner of the lake to myself. I say eerie- I think that the more recently a building or site has been abandoned, the eerier it is. Perhaps it's because it seems like the occupants could return at any moment, or because whatever caused their initial exodus could still be present.
Exploration inside was thwarted by locked doors, though a spiral staircase outside leads to a rooftop terrace. I'm a bit too exposed up there for my liking, so I return to the decking below. I sit on the dusty old patio furniture, under the expansive shade of the deep roof, and I make myself coffee on my tuna-can camp stove. All around me is the serenity of the blue lake water tinged talc-y white, its aqueous song punctuated only once by a passing boat. I watch, wait, and relax.
I finish my coffee and head home.
Nature's reclamation of man-made structures is surprisingly rapid and solemnly beautiful. Decay and destruction can be mesmerizing. I don't have too much to say about this site, nor do I want to, but I do hope you enjoy the photos. I wasn't able to go in any of the buildings, but there was plenty to explore outside.
Our experience of the world changes radically at night, alone.
I had decided to go for a midnight stroll, and wanting to avoid the major highways, I went south-west. I had vague plans to roam some of the empty fields on OU's research campus.
The spartan cloud cover has rent open wounds far above me in the sky, wounds bleeding faint stars and unfamiliar constellations. Walking in the darkness, only an occasional intruding car sweeps by me, their headlights out of place like nervous laughter in the night.
I had spent the better part of a year working in this area, driving and riding along this very road, but I had never experienced it like this. Quieter, yes, but not quiet. Bugs, birds, and weird sounds floated from the vegetation that seemed at once barely held back by asphalt road. I ducked underneath a spiderweb. Perhaps this speaks to how scarcely I find myself outdoors at this time of night, but I felt alien here.
I come across a dark road off to my left. I peer down it, hoping to glean what might be the source of a lonely orange glow I see at the far end of it.
No dice- I must travel it to discover what's at the other end.
Crushing gravel underfoot, I'm acutely aware of every sound I make and every movement I take as I leave the strange familiarity of the main road behind. To either side, black trees leer at me. I can hear hisses off to my far left, in the distance. I continue walking towards the warm, orange light.
I stop and pause before the withered skeleton of a tree. Intellectually, I know it's a dead tree. But right now, sunk in the thick night, it looks like a claw reaching evilly for the faint stars overhead. I can't help myself: I pull out my flashlight and shine the light at it.
It is indeed a dead tree.
I redouble my efforts to reach the end of the road. I can see a building, the soft light I saw from so far away. A car. Questions bubble into my mind. What facility could this be? Why is it tucked away at the end of this road? Who might be there?
My line of sight clears the tree line. It is an apartment complex. I am bathed once more in the artificial day of a city, and the stars above have slipped away for the moment.
The spell is broken, but the weirdness of my nocturnal meander stays with me.
I continue on, making my way past the apartment buildings to circumvent the OUPD station off to the right on my way to the fields I was still contemplating.
Ah, but that building over there- so lonely, so tired looking. I must see what it is.
There is no way in, but on a hunch, I follow the chain link fence around.
If you guessed that this was a drainage ditch leading under the fence, you'd be right. Told you I was a little obsessed.
I'm afraid the pictures didn't come out terribly well in the darkness. I've been running into the limitations of my smartphone camera. It performs admirably when there's plenty of light around, but there is no way to adjust the shutter speed for low-light or nighttime pictures.
Anyway, I suddenly found myself in the middle of this large complex. Nearest I can tell, it was a combination recycling center, trash dump, heavy equipment storage, and Corix utilities facility.
After finding one of the large bay doors unlocked, I tried to slip inside. Unfortunately, the door must have been sealed shut somewhere I couldn't see- or perhaps old age had rusted it shut- but I couldn't find my way inside. Though I was able to peek inside some of the windows. My favorite- the tire hanging from the ceiling at the top of the photo below.
I'm afraid the weary worker hoping for a respite on their cigarette break won't have a very good view.
An unexpected but fun exploration. A quick hop of the fence and I was on my way back home.
Bonus: One of the only decent photos from another little exploration I did of an unfinished parking garage on Lindsey and Classen. The view is towards the OU campus.
Until the next time,
Dillon Dakota Carroll
Maybe it's beginners luck, but I'm amazed at how easy it is to get into somewhere you shouldn't.
Take the golf course behind my apartment complex, for example. It's surrounded by a typical 7ft tall chain link fence. Walking home one day, however, I noticed that you could literally step over the fence as it passed under a bridge. This bridge passes over a drainage ditch leading out of the golf course.
And ever since the GoRuck challenge I did on July 4th, I'm starting to be a little obsessed with drainage ditches.
I intended just to see where the drainage ditch went, and if it linked up with any streams or stormwater drains. But I went with the flow, which led me across the course and into the facility's in-construction "Turf Care and Research Facility". Because we still haven't mastered watering grass.
I find it amazing that on the one hand, you have this amazingly manicured golf course. I'm no golf course expert, but this seems like a fairly typical golf course. And right in the midst of this expensive facade, right underneath it, the landscape reveals the depths of its personality and history. It is a little hidden, as the golf course designers probably intended. But as I mentioned in my last post about Urban Exploration, part of the fun for me is seeing a little deeper into our surroundings than most ever think, or want, to look. And hey, to be fair, if I were a golfer (as I'm not) then slogging through trashy, murky drainage ditches certainly wouldn't be on my to-do list.
If you follow the drainage ditch in the above picture back a little, in between the rows of wild-looking brush and off to the right, here's some of what you'll find:
I doubt golfers dragged all this flotsam here, so I have to wonder what exactly this golf course is built on top of, or in place of. An old grocery store, perhaps? The busted concrete (perhaps from the parking lot) and half-buried shopping carts, among the rest of the rubbish, hint at that.
At a certain point, the drainage ditch turns into a fairly deep, stagnant pool with no room along the banks to continue on foot. I decided that made it a pretty good time to leave. To look for an out-of-the-way spot to jump the fence, I followed the golf cart path towards the end of the course, which was closed for the evening.
That's when I saw the Turf Research Facility and figured I couldn't pass up the opportunity to take a look and figure out what, exactly, it was. While such a facility seems to me to be.. superfluous, to say the least, I will hold my judgment. In many cases buildings such as these are built with funds specifically earmarked for them by donors enamored with a particular project. Or maybe it's funded completely from extra golf course profits. Either one of those could be the case here.
Or maybe they'll use the "research" facility to do really important things, like develop drought resistant crops that can help prevent subsequent famines in poverty-stricken parts of the globe. Doubtful, but who knows?
At any rate, I enjoyed the opportunity to explore what is literally my back yard. The facility seemed nearly ready. The structure itself was nearly done, and it looked like they had just begun moving in all the fittings, accoutrements and trappings of such a facility.
Until my next trespassing (kidding),
Dillon Dakota Carroll
Why have I come to the top of this unfinished building in the middle of the night?
This building is what I will consider my first Urban Exploration. The view is fantastic, with the lights of the city of Norman and the University of Oklahoma campus twinkling like fireflies across the horizon. I'm shielded from the howling wind by modern equivalent of a castle's parapets.
Ah, to sit on the roof, lie back, and gaze at the stars with an unobstructed view! The tile is rough and uncompromising, but still I feel my mind sliding softly towards sleep. Can I not see my life as a never-ending quest to find ever more novel and beautiful places to gaze and wonder, dream and ponder?
On top of this roof, I ask myself how much I really need to be happy. To quote Zan Perrion quoting Thoreau in The Alabaster Girl,
Simplify, simplify, simplify. Or as they say in the aeronautics industry, “Simplify and add lightness.” Or as Thoreau so wonderfully put it, “As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.”
Why have I come to the top of this unfinished building in the middle of the night?
For the view, and for the act of summiting, of course.
Then there's the nice adrenaline rush of getting to the summit. That is, the act of exploring the unknown, and of pushing through fear or hesitation to interact with our environs on our own terms.
Finally, there's the act of exploration itself. I could feel, see, and experience a place in a way almost no one else can or will. And that's pretty cool.
...sees much and knows much